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Dana Alsamsam

Unauthorized Autobiography

           After Sherman Alexie

I want to know how my father’s eyes remain open when they hold the weight of an entire country’s destruction.




My origin only shows in my iris—a color given by my father—the hue of dirt roads in Aleppo. My red hair and white skin are louder than my dark eyes and louder than my last name which escapes in three smooth beats—Alsamsam means dagger.


Ten generations of my father’s Syrian family has the same sharp stab of our last name. They bought watermelon from salesmen on the corner with sun-hardened shoulders like theirs and took the force-fed poison of war into their low, growling stomachs.


I experience the violence from afar as newsmen rattle chains on American television screens screaming of regimes that describe nothing of the country my family, my father come from. Our visits were cut short, cut to never again. Children I haven’t conceived of have holes in their stomachs where Syria once stood with upturned palms.


I want to know why bodies are made strong for battle but still supple for love, for grief, for storytelling. My father’s eyes are so clearly reflected in my face, but still, I worry that my Syrian iris fades like a horizon line as the Damascus lights rise into a star-pricked sky. Dana means pearl—my full name—Pearl Dagger—beauty adorning pain.




It’s easier to accept destruction when you let it destroy you, too. The rubble of Aleppo collects beneath my father’s damp eyes.

Dana Alsamsam poems

Dana Alsamsam is a queer, Syrian-American poet from Chicago who is currently an MFA candidate at Emerson College in Boston. She is the assistant poetry editor at Redivider and senior editorial assistant in training at Ploughshares. Dana's poems are published or forthcoming in Poetry East, L'Ephemere Review, Daphne Mag, Blood Orange Review, Bad Pony Mag, Rag Queen Periodical and others. She recently won third prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2017. Twitter & Instagram @DanaAlsamsam

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