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'Running Orders,' a Powerful Poem by Palestinian-American Lena Khalaf Tuffaha on Gaza

    A young girl mourns the death of her 6-year-old relative, Baraa Mogdadm, who was killed with nine others, most of them children, in an explosion at a park in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday. (AP/Adel Hana)

There’s a poem circulating online, written from the voice of a Palestinian evacuee in Gaza, that is as gut wrenching as it is important. Although photographs and testimonies from the besieged region, spread mostly through social media, have gone a long way in humanizing a people who have often been dehumanized and vilified to serve political aims, Lena Khalaf Tuffaha’s poem puts the reader in a Gazan’s shoes as, minutes after watching the World Cup as many in the rest of the world were, she receives a phone call prompting her to immediately abandon her home.

It is poetry like Tuffaha’s that can remind us of the power of words at a time when reading just news stories about the situation in the Middle East fails to convey the deep human tragedy occurring for more than 20 days now (and years before that) in the world’s most populated strip of land.

Running Orders

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
Run.
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
Run.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Assistant Editor and Poetry Editor
Natasha Hakimi Zapata is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American Literature at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain. She also holds a Creative Writing M.F.A. from Boston University and both a…
Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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