You Can Be the Last Leaf
Translated from the Arabic and introduced by Fady Joudah, You Can Be the Last Leaf draws on two decades of work to present the transcendent and timely US debut of Palestinian poet Maya Abu Al-Hayyat.
Art. Garlic. Taxis. Sleepy soldiers at checkpoints. The smell of trash on a winter street, before “our wild rosebush, neglected / by the gate, / blooms.” Lovers who don’t return, the possibility that you yourself might not return. Making beds. Cleaning up vomit. Reading recipes. In You Can Be the Last Leaf, these are the ordinary and profound—sometimes tragic, sometimes dreamy, sometimes almost frivolous—moments of life under Israeli colonial rule.
Here, private and public domains are inseparable. Desire, loss, and violence permeate the walls of the home, the borders of the mind. And yet that mind is full of its own fierce and funny voice, its own preoccupations and strangenesses. “It matters to me,” writes Abu Al-Hayyat, “what you’re thinking now / as you coerce your kids to sleep / in the middle of shelling”: whether it’s coming up with “plans / to solve the world’s problems,” plans that “eliminate longing from stories, remove exhaustion from groans,” or dreaming “of a war / that’s got no war in it,” or proclaiming that “I don’t believe in survival.”
In You Can Be the Last Leaf, Abu Al-Hayyat has created a richly textured portrait of Palestinian interiority—at once wry and romantic, worried and tenacious, and always singing itself.
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Praise and Prizes
“The Palestinian poet’s U.S. debut gathers two decades of her intimate testimony about private life in a public war zone, where ‘those who win by killing fewer children / are losers.’”
“Al-Hayyat's latest devastating and courageous collection captures the precarious everyday lives of Palestinians with enormous empathy and glistening clarity . . . The vivid translations by Fady Joudah will jostle readers into discomfort and pin Al-Hayyat's stunning voice into their ears.”
“There is so much grief and laughter in this collection, loss and love, as we watch the poet over time in an unending occupation. This unceasing violence seeps into her interior world too, her home and mind. But she still fiercely demands space for desire, laughter, and hope.”
“Abu Al-Hayyat explores the broader political and geographic aspects of Palestinian life under colonial rule while at the same time interweaving the quotidian aspects of life and loss in such settings. Within these frictions of exterior trauma and private contemplations, large constraints and small freedoms, these poems soar.”
"You Can Be the Last Leaf is a collection of selected poems from Abu Al-Hayyat’s four poetry collections . . . it gives the reader a window into the impressive journey that the poet has charted from her first poetry collection . . . This translation is necessary because Abu Al-Hayyat is fierce, impressive, and unapologetically herself. Her work takes the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions anchored in truth. In her poems, the reader experiences life as it is, with its round and broken wholeness. Abu Al-Hayyat writes in a clear and concise fashion about loss, grief, fear, hope, and love echoing her experiences as well as what she witnesses in Palestine."
“The poems in You Can Be the Last Leaf are told in vignettes, addresses, and near aphorisms. They chronicle the intimate, the sensual worlds that churn despite a colonial cruelty bored with itself—the worlds of children and lovers, diseases and flesh. Frank, wry, devastating, Maya Abu Al-Hayyat’s work is an absolute gift to behold, crystalline in Fady Joudah’s translation, renewing my faith in language and the houses it can build. This is a powerful introduction to a poet who knows, ‘They will fall in the end, / those who say you can’t.’”
“Maya’s poetry is breathtaking in its specificity and rendering of heart, land, loss, and love alike.”
“These are poems of understated beauty, understated violence. They both return, conjoined, compelling the reader after the book is put down and picked up again, again. It’s a book of quotidian Palestinian existence, where ‘every time I leave the house / it’s suicide,’ a book of love in all its varieties, maternal, sororal, blithely erotic, of hope and of despair. Although the poet eschews overt narrative, myriad stories are interwoven here, in the warp and woof of a lyric poetry, seamlessly rendered from language to language by fellow-poet Fady Joudah.”
“‘What if / I find what I’m looking for?’ asks the poet, a question both disarming and succulent in one of this collection’s many gently immovable poems. How singular the ordinary is, the poet shows, spotlit as it is against the world’s unending violence. Only a poet of great love like Maya Abu Al-Hayyat could claim both that ‘love dies’ and is ‘worth a thousand loves’ with ‘two hands.’ ‘Are we human?’ the poet also asks. There is no good answer, but we would be foolish to ignore the question. Props must be given to translator Fady Joudah for so sheerly rendering this collection to us undeserving English-speaking readers; I hope we can appreciate the enormity of this gift.”