Nathalie Handal’s poems force one to pause, to step away from the chaos, to let go and let the world spin. She guides you into another place and time, a dream state, a place of light and a place of darkness. “Love and Strange Horses—Intima’” is a love story, albeit not an ordinary one. It is in that unorthodox love story that the poet uncovers that elusive feeling, that unnamed intimate desire we all carry with us each day, that self-conscious marker of vulnerability, that very human need—to belong.
Love and Strange Horses—Intima’
By Nathalie Handal
One hundred breaths split the air
as I lean
on the only pine tree I find.
It’s early or late, it’s breezy or hot.
The fields are dry. Summer is near.
The horses are everywhere,
strangely galloping a dream,
but I can’t remember
how to call them,
so I stand back, watch them pass.
The first time I rode a horse
my body found the music of fire,
crackling the wind. An unbearable pleasure
that also left me with a burn on the side of my leg.
A sign, the horsekeeper told me, of longing.
A need to return—to belong.
After all, departure is like
pushing the weight of our heart
against the village
whose name has kept us awake.
Rafael came from somewhere in Eurasia.
I passed my hands through his mane—
saw a history of conquests and battles,
a field of hay, a mount of truth,
heard a silent ring,
his eyes asking me to go with him,
to confess something sacred,
to name something lustful.
Nothing of where he came from,
or who I was, disturbed us.
I knew he was different by the way he ran—
He was told how to move in the world
and resented it.
He knew he would never own anything.
He came towards me.
It was a quiet afternoon.
I stood unmoving.
And we listened to untitled music
circling the earth like an anthem
free of its nation.
He was unfamiliar to me,
approaching as if he possessed the land.
Every morning he stopped five feet
from the river.
He waited for the light
to touch the leaves,
waited for me to look away
before he disappeared.
One day he stopped coming,
I assumed he had finished burying all he needed to
five feet away from the water.
Darkness has no shape except
the one you give it, he told me.
And handed me
an apple, an orange, a lily,
and a basket of grapes.
I said, Are these the shape of darkness
or a distraction the heart needs?
One day, as the horses passed by,
one left a strangeness inside me.
The stranger he became
the stronger his memory grew inside me.
That’s the thing about love,
it likes to leave its mark
while counting birds in reverse.
It’s about belonging, it whispers, intima’.
I suppose we need evidence of desire—
to have broken a heart in this dangerous world;
evidence that we belonged somewhere once.
Intima’ means “belonging” in Arabic.
“Love and Strange Horses—Intima’” is taken from Love and Strange Horses, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. Used with permission.
Nathalie Handal (www.nathaliehandal.com) is of Palestinian heritage and has called Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States home. She is the author of numerous books, including Poet in Andalucía—a unique re-creation, in reverse, of Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York, and Love and Strange Horses. She is a 2011 Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award winner and co-editor of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond. Her work has appeared in many publications, including the Guardian, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Guernica Magazine. She is a Lannan Foundation Fellow, recipient of the Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature 2011, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award, and an Honored Finalist for the Gift of Freedom Award, among other honors.