JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, from our ongoing coverage of poets and poetry, Nathalie Handal, a writer and editor who brings poetry from different parts of the world to an American audience. She spoke to us last month while in Washington, D.C., for the Kennedy Center’s Arabesque festival.
NATHALIE HANDAL, writer and editor: My name is Nathalie Handal. I’m a poet, playwright, and writer, and editor of different anthologies.
I’m from Bethlehem. And I’ve lived in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the United States, and the Arab world.
I’ve had a transient life, and so poetry and the word has been important because that’s what I’ve gone back to, because that has stayed. So I’ve gone back to poetry for my memories, for what I’ve left behind.
I’m always struck by the way poetry addresses our shared humanity. It makes us, you know, go to that place of dialogue. It sort of unifies us in a very important way.
I’m a co-editor for “Language for a New Century,” which I co-edited with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar. We brought together more than 400 voices, different languages, and all these voices sort of echo something of my own personal experience and has been very important in how I move forward, not only as a writer, but as a person in the world.
A reading of 'Blue Hours'
Good evening, everyone. It's so wonderful to be here at the Kennedy Center with all of you. Thank you so much for coming.
When I came to the U.S., they asked me what accent I had. And I said, "I think it's kind of French." They're like, "No, no, no, it sounds Spanish." I'm like, "OK, that's fine." You know, my parents live in Latin America now. If you want it to be Spanish, that's OK, but I come from Bethlehem. They're like, "Oh, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania." And I'm like, "No, Palestine." They're like, "Oh, Pakistan."
This next poem is called "Blue Hours." And it really reflects all countries and all the languages that are now part of me, but never forgetting where I'm from.
In the blue hour,
the negrita cries, I hide
not to deceive the darkness
La negrita is not far
from where I stand
her one hand...
I too am visible now, behind the tree
behind the night, behind the cry
and all I want to know
is her name
and ask her:
have you ever heard
your heart undressing,
seen a stray dog at midnight
and realize he understands this hour
better than you will understand any hour?
have you seen yourself in every woman
with your eyes or in women with eyes
more difficult than yours?
have you ever really heard your voice,
echoing in your nipples?
She offers me tea,
we end up drinking coffee,
trying to reach the bottom of the cup
now, my teeth are stained, my English
failing me, my Arabic fading
my Spanish starting to make sense...
we are in a finca now --
perhaps we are safe,
perhaps we desire nothing else,
but I can't stop bowing in prayer
five times a day,
my country comes to me, tells me:
Compatriota -- I will always find you
no matter what language you are speaking.