Elegy for the Lost Carry-On

by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha


When I lament the bag trapped somewhere
in the bowels of Heathrow’s Terminal 5

The agent asks is any of it irreplaceable?
He wants a litany of what I carry

on across oceans, how I circumnavigate
the strata of time and diasporic longing.

Requisite medications, to guard the lining
of the stomach and the blood vessels constricting at the base

of the skull. A pair of thick socks, my reading
glasses, three books of poems, the last of the jasmine

from grandmother’s garden pressed between their pages.
Olive leaves, always olive leaves from our land. And—if I’m honest—

a handful of dirt. Not enough to declare in customs
or trigger a crisis of agricultural contamination, enough

to carry with me the familiar, a place for fingertips to rest
when I am, again, uncountried. And the indulgences:

a verse of Darwish’s poems, plated in metal worthy
of its echoes, a braided chain, a veined

turquoise to ward off heartache, and pens.
In its front pocket: bags of anise tea,

and ezha bread. It will look like darkness
to you, but in my homeland an ocean-colored flower

folds its petals and sleeps through the rains
until the end of spring. It builds a house—veined husk, fragile

dome—where pungent seeds whisper to one another,
and the women of my homeland, centuries ago,

found these ripened ovules, these love letters nesting
in what seemed barren. A woman probably lingered

over the nigella’s airy bracts, retrieved the living
from the crumbling structure, put the tiny miracle to her lips

and understood. From the oil, from the molasses, from the smoky kiss
of its night-colored body a healing. These and a few

personal effects: a bottle of perfume, a coin purse,
tickets from our visit to the museum.

LENA KHALAF TUFFAHA is the author of Water & Salt, winner of the 2018 Washington State Book Award, and Arab in Newsland, winner of the 2016 Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poems have been published in Barrow StreetMichigan Quarterly ReviewNew England ReviewTriQuarterly, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day feature. Her essays and book reviews have been published in The RumpusKenyon Review OnlineWorld Literature Today, and Poetry Northwest. Her chapbook, Letters from the Interior, is forthcoming in Fall 2019 from Diode Press.

Photo: “Nigella Love in a Mist” by Mickey JT