The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Literature from Mexico City

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha: 2 Poems Published

Poems by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha (USA)

Published in The Ofi Press issue 42




            Tu’burni is a common Syrian term of endearment that transliterates “bury me” and means “I love you so much I hope I’m the one that dies first.”


As a child, the syrup of

my grandmother’s lilting sweet-nothings

seemed otherworldly.

Her Syrian phrases stretched wide as an embrace,

jasmine petals bathed in her laughter.

Tu’burni – bury me!

Beloved of my heart

my life and my soul.


When I balked at the dark prayer

wrapped in love’s silks

my mother translated:

Let me be

the one who goes first,

let my heart never live a day without you,

children should bury their elders.


In my grandmother’s old

Damascus neighborhood now

slender shrouds scrubbed

clean of war’s detritus

sleep soundlessly

silhouetted against the stone wall.


The dark prayer,


burns to white ash.

In the homeland of jasmine,

childhood drowned

in a poison with no fragrance.









Middle Village


Once you move away

and eat onions raised in another soil

wash for prayers in soft water flowing

voluptuously from the faucet

with no fear of shortages or disruptions

in the weekly laundry schedule,

you are from the West.


If you learn to drink your morning coffee

form a paper cup on the way to work

as you speed along a velvety stretch of freeway

you are from the West.


It can’t be helped.

There are fewer sunlight hours where you now live.

Perhaps a vitamin D deficiency will explain some of it

to your grandmother who loves you

with such longing until you travel back

then she still loves you

but with the tempered wisdom of one whose children are immigrants.


It can’t be helped.

the bread you now buy turns brittle only moments

after it’s taken out of the bag

and is too thin to soak up the glistening oil she sends you

each year after the harvest’s press.


It can’t be helped.

You stumble through fragments of language with a heavy tongue

searching for words you’d stored in the attic

sorting through what’s been folded away

what fits only like an older sister’s hand-me-downs.


Once you practice a new economy of greetings,

kissing just twice

one tidy peck on each cheek

when you are first to release the embrace

you are from the West.


But once, years away from home

aboard a ferry on the Bosphorous, blue

cradle rocking between sister shores,

the longing nestled deep in your heart

unfurls its dervish robes across the sky.

Suddenly the words you hear five times a day

recorded on your mobile phone

or muttered quickly under your breath

stop you in your tracks

and on the shores of Ortakoy

you find yourself looking East.




About the Poet

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an Arab American writer of Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian heritage. She writes poetry as well as essays and literary translations and her poems have been published internationally in print and online journals including Sukoon, Human, The Lake for Poetry, the Monarch Review, and the Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art. In 2014, her poem “Immigrant” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Lena’s first collection of poems is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2018.

Image: "Syrian Boys" by Random House.