Today, along with Milkweed Editions and Riffraff Bookstore, we celebrate the cover reveal for Palestinian poet, editor, and short-story writer Maya Abu al-Hayyat’s You Can Be the Last Leaf in translation by Palestinian poet, physician, and translator Fady Joudah:
This collection, forthcoming in May 2022 and now available for pre-order, is full of what translator Fady Joudah calls a “shrewd humor on the edge of frivolity” that “offers the poet breathing room.” As Joudah writes, beautifully, in his introduction:
She mocks heroism, dislikes “great” men, and believes in smiling ear to ear whenever she can believe in nothing. You will hear and taste her laughter and also yours. Because laughter is “the excess knowledge no one takes seriously,” the cherished identity smuggled out of psychology and surveilled consciousness. The poet celebrates survival as a last leaf in autumn is sister to the first leaf in spring.
Abu al-Hayyat’s poetry doesn’t turn away from sins, ugly secrets, or “videos of slaughtered children / and children who will be kidnapped / from their magical smiles tomorrow”[.] But she insists on this laughter that is both a delight and a weapon, a source of knowledge and a force so powerful it can break her ribs and gash public decency.
The day you explain your laugh to anyone
should never come. Your laugh would lose
its prestige. Laughter
is the excess knowledge no one takes seriously.
And if someone deplores your peals,
pity them, wish them well,
and go after your chuckles full throttle.
I’m exhausted from smuggling my laugh out of my psychology,
smuggling my laugh out of the fates of those I love,
out of videos of slaughtered children
and children who will be kidnapped
from their magical smiles tomorrow,
exhausted from smuggling my laugh
out of sins, ugly secrets,
and in ripped stockings: my jarring laugh
that breaks my ribs
and gashes public decency.
From You Can Be the Last Leaf by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2022). Translation copyright © 2022 by Fady Joudah. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org
The cover design, by Mary Austin Speaker, uses the cover art “Olive,” a photo etching by Scotland-based Palestinian artist and printmaker Leena Nammari who writes, on her website, that, “Her love of printmaking comes from the idea that it tends to be a social/communal activity.” You can find more of her work in her online portfolio.