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So Like Architecture

Hala Alyan

This poem was originally published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 3 (2019). Due to the visual structure of the poem, it is best viewed on the desktop version.

The get-well flowers are wilting and I am not yet well enough to lie

I cut my hair before I learned to braid it of course I regret it all, and when/

if I dream it’s of her, but alive, a little mushroom in the tub away from light

My grief’s a platter of salty clams don’t ask me to share, I’ve not yet

named my recovery or my good or my single filthy question—did I want this?

If I’d been another, a Helen, would I still be spread-eagled on the bed

song frothing from my mouth I tug my earlobes and nobody knows

that I didn’t get the job or my uterus is still mending & when grief robes me

I like to pretend my body’s a napkin, something formerly botanical now not,

shining like hair, the wrong word is juns, the wet left as keepsake

maybe not shining but thicket, as in a thicket of whiskey on a picnic table

Lately it’s been Wyoming, an invention of roses and horses, a new man saying

put away your legs, and when he asks what exactly it is I want I stammer

when you speak so loud (2012) by Mohsin Shafi


Hala Alyan is a Palestinian-American poet and clinical psychologist. She was born in Carbondale, Illinois, and grew up in Kuwait, Oklahoma, Texas, Maine and Lebanon. She earned a BA from the American University of Beirut and an MA from Columbia University. While completing her doctorate in clinical psychology from Rutgers University, she specialised in trauma and addiction work with various populations. Alyan’s poetry collections include Atrium (2012), winner of the 2013 Arab American Book Award in Poetry, Four Cities (2015) and Hijra (Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. She is the author of the novel Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). She has been awarded a Lannan Foundation fellowship and lives in Manhattan.

About the featured artist: Mohsin Shafi is an interdisciplinary artist based in Lahore, Pakistan. He holds a bachelor’s degree in visual communication and a master’s (honors) in visual arts, both from the National College of Arts, Lahore. In the last decade, he has extensively showcased his work throughout all prominent galleries in Pakistan. Mohsin’s art practice is internationally renowned, as he has showcased at various art fairs, biennales, gallery exhibitions and alternative experimental spaces around the globe. He was awarded a studio residency at Alter Mondial, Basel, organised by Pro Helvetia, Switzerland, and was also the artist in residence at The Growlery, San Francisco, in 2019. Previously, Mohsin was an artist in residence at The Rondo Studios, Graz, in 2012 and at Vasl, Karachi, in 2010. His artwork is in numerous public and private collections, within Pakistan and abroad. Mohsin’s work has been featured and discussed in local and international newspapers and publications. Mohsin is a core and active member of the Awami Art Collective, a unique group of artists and activists intervening in the public space in Lahore for the cause of peaceful co-existence and celebration of diversity.

The featured artwork is a self portrait (20.5 cm x 35.5 cm), using hand-cut paper collage with photo transfers, inkjet prints, opaque colors and peacock feathers.


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