First Generation

by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha



Our parents told us, if we left, it was for fear
of what might fall:
the structures that house us,

the sky itself, breached, defenseless.
And if we remained, it was for fear

of what would be taken, the orchards
that raised us, the catalog
of wildflowers we foraged

after the last rains, the names
inscribed on grandparents’ headstones.
So little is spoken

of love and its fractured geography.
Like all good refugees, our parents teach us
how it is forgetting’s successful twin, how it graduates

from the best university, makes a life for itself
in tech and finance, in arts and letters, and when our fingers

part to examine it, what we’ve gripped like the edge
of a lifeboat, like a lantern, our hands are empty,
a canvas the color of our stone villages.



Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is a poet, essayist, and translator. She is the author of two books of poetry, Water & Salt (Red Hen Press), winner of the 2018 Washington State Book Award, and Kaan and Her Sisters (Trio House Press, 2023). Her forthcoming collection, Something About Living, was selected by Adrian Matejka for the 2022 Akron Poetry Prize and will be published by the University of Akron Press in 2024. Most recently, Tuffaha served as the curator of the Poems from Palestine translation series at The Baffler magazine. For more information about her publications and awards, visit

Back to Vol. VIII: “Lines”