Lisa Suhair Majaj

Palestinian-American writer and scholar

Lisa Suhair Majaj (born 1960) is a Palestinian-American poet and scholar.


  • My writing process is generally a bit haphazard. I carry notebooks around to capture ideas, observations, phrases, images, chunks of freewriting. I shift to the computer to do more substantive writing and work on craft issues. I always generate multiple drafts of pieces (keeping all drafts in a separate folder), and often experiment with form in different versions to see what fits the text best.
  • I find inspiration in anything that sparks attention and emotion and associations—an object, a news article, a natural scene, a sound, an odor. Going for walks sharpens my awareness as well as freeing my mind to wander. I think losing my parents so early, and keeping so many mementos from them around me in my daily life, helped shape my understanding of how meaning is embedded in the simplest of things. I use potholders my mother crocheted, keep my dad’s paperweight on my desk, and think of them daily.

Geographies of Light (2009)


Fragments from the poetry collection

  • Now we walk out into the tunnel of days
    and a million memories rustle
  • till the moon rises,
    the night opens,
    and all the stars shine out.
  • The sun will rise again tomorrow,
    vigilant and weary as hope.
  • May we all fit together like this: trees, birds, sky,
    people, separate elements in a living portrait,
    outlines smoothed by the forgiving wash
    of lingering light. Whatever the skins we live in,
    the names we choose, the gods we claim or disavow,
    may we be like grains of sand on the beach at night:
    a hundred million separate particles
    creating a single expanse on which to lie back
    and study the stars. And may we remember the generosity
    of light: how it travels through unimaginable darkness,
    age after age, to light our small human night.
  • Bless poetry books that cross oceans
    in battered envelopes,
    bearing small flames of words.
  • hopes
    for peace: hand clasped in hand
    firmer than fist on a gun
    or club, hand raised in greeting
    stronger than hand raised for violence
  • Today his words surround me
    with the quiet intensity of growing things,
    roots planted a long time ago
    lacing the distances of my heart.
  • See how we save even the broken bits of pottery,
    fitting fragments together
    along jagged lines to remember you
  • Did my parents know
    that what they planted,
    roots against the drought,
    would survive?
  • consider the infinite fragility of an infant's skull,
    how the bones lie soft and open
    only time knitting them shut
  • consider a delicate porcelain bowl
    how it crushes under a single blow-
    in one moment whole years disappear
  • The distance between one breath and another
    is like the miles starlight travels to reach
    my dreams.
  • so I hoard memories
    sort them for seeds to plant
    pray they root
  • Once she could have held anything steady
    and safe: a glass of tea, her brother's baby.
    Now her hands shake at the weight of a fork.
  • ground resilient beneath our feet, sky
    between branches of trees older than any of us.
  • She took her slice of life
    then gave without measuring
    or counting
  • what's left but
    shards of memory
    smoothed and hoarded,
    shrapnel griefs,
    a few regrets?
  • Who knew the past would follow us so far,
    years collapsing like an ancient accordion,
    scraps of memory tucked like torn photographs
    into the sockets of our eyes?
  • Remember the splintered staccato
    of bullets against rock, the way dust rose
    in the stunned aftershock of silence?
  • We learned to let our faces hide
    our selves, to speak our story in a private
    tongue, the past a shadow in our bones.
  • No matter how far you've come, remember:
    the starting line is always closer than you think.
  • soon syllables will fall from her lips
    the first rain
  • how a word transforms us
    seedling taking delicate hold
    or a weed choking the tender plants
    news enters us and puts down roots
  • These words are the weight
    cupped in our palms:
    the small broken note of freedom.
  • Part of it hides behind the headlines
    where this shard of the story will never be told.

Quotes about Lisa Suhair Majaj

  • Lisa Suhair Majaj has one of the most necessary voices writing in the world today. Her exquisite poems sustain and hearten us, lift us out of the morass of deception and delusion. Her images and scenes offer up clean, brave truth. Here is the saving grace of honesty, dignity, and deep compassion. Here is a keen, elegant eye and a care wider than any single horizon.
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