Paula Kaufman – Three Poems


Weekends in Rajeep

Amani’s family never wanted me to leave,
always more tea, Bidun sukar, no sugar I say,
shai, too sweet.
I am an excuse for a walk in flowers.
Amani’s parents lace fingers like new lovers,
though her mama’s hair is streaked gray.
Their hands make a sturdy cinnamon bridge,
baba’s fingers muscled from tying brooms,
mama’s from putting her hands into fire for bread.
White horse scatters almond blossoms with its tail.
Everything blooms.


Teaching Ms. Paula How to Dance

They tied a coin scarf around my hips,
taught me to shake. At night, dream smells
fanned off rooftop barbecue, onion-juice heart
pattering onto coals in Nablus.

Students gifted me their bracelets,
shook photos of secret boyfriends from wallets and flip phones,
coffee eyes and jelled back hair.
This liminal period, before marriage.

Graduation sky: the bluest blue
under drums and dabka dancing.
We stood atop chairs waving flowers.

For weddings, you wore puffed gowns,
nervous bare shoulders. Grandmothers trilled
with a covered palm, cake descending
in a sparkler halo.

Always drumming. Even on the school fieldtrip bus.
We took turns cupping the drum face
between knees. Relax your wrist, you told me,
 lightness essential to playing.

Nablusi Market

I bite into fig’s sonnet,
crunch warm roasted peanuts, Jordan almonds.
My mouth purpled sumac from musakhan
fingers glisten
sautéed onions atop bread. Ala albak.
Coffee-seller calls, ashara! ashara!
Clicks two cups together, announcing day.
Mothers need no market list to make a prayer,
to choose which tomatoes smolder best,
pickles to contrast falafel.
I wander market lost and not,
stones slick-polished by feet and years.
Carts roll drumbeats over sun-soaked sidewalks.
 Journey by sandal, shared taxi, bus. Ya’teekal’afia.
Grandmothers gather maramia,
sage heaped on t backs like a cloud.
Painted tiles, shoes. Hot soap, bucket-hoisted.
Mint bouquets. I jewel yogurt in pomegranates 
and desert flower honey—bee’s first oud song.
Falafel. Tahini-drenched pink pickles. Warm pita.
Hummus sweetened with an orange. Cardamom coffee.
In winter we sip warm sahlab
flaked in coconut and cinnamon.
Kanafeh syrup guilds teeth.
Sweet cheese, pastry and pistachio crumbs.
 I left a store nearly forgetting to pay
 because you give me so many free gifts!
Cup of corn dashed with lemon & salt.
The wishing well of a fig.
 My hands are drizzle loose, star bright
shining with insha’allah.
I was born from the luck of billions
with a husk that can easily fly.
And you, who can’t easily travel,
slept on the floor,
gave me your tea, bread and bed,
before asking my name.

Ala albak: Praised be to your health
Ya’teekal’afia: Announcing your taxi stop
Oud: Type of traditional lute
Shukran: Thank you
Insha’Allah: If Allah Wills



Author’s Statement on Beauty

I believe we are here to connect and to be beacons of light, refracting goodness in the world. I like the way the Japanese celebrate beauty. They believe that what is flawed is actually more human and whole. They pioneered a form of ceramics in which the cracks are stuffed with gold. How incredible is that? Scrap conjures light. Can what’s broken, bloom? Crazy quilt artistry, rose embroidered from sugar sack, unbridled flowering.

The history of kintsugi:
Break. Arroyo. Tear. The shogun’s favorite bowl fell to earth, cracking into so many small pieces. Bereft, the shogun sent the dish to China to be repaired. It returned covered in noisy metal staples.With a keen eye for beauty, the shogun was horrified. Displeased, he asked his own artisans to try harder. They responded with gold, repaired with sunrise. Each breach, a new treasure. This wabi-sabi, this life. This art tradition continues in Japan today. Furthermore, Japan produces a great quantity of the world’s pure gold leaf. Pounding gold until it is whisper thin. So fragile if you blow, it floats away, only pieces of light left on fingertips.



Paula Kaufman enjoys running through cinnamon ferns in the mountains of West Virginia. She dreams of traveling around the world via boat, hot air balloon or pogo stick. She taught in Palestine and Japan before returning to America in time to vote for someone who is currently not power.