What Breaks
Polity of Literature (32/51)

What Breaks

A Palestinian girl growing up in suburban Ohio is proud to receive an A- on her 9th grade genocide report. Later, grown up, she asks Can a fact be sad? I wish to know.

Born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, Noor Hindi grew up in a multilingual household (Arabic and English) in northeastern Ohio, where her family settled when she was two. She attended the local public schools and studied English at the University of Akron. In 2020 she received an MFA in poetry from the NEO program at Kent State University. In addition to writing poetry and essays, Hindi is a news reporter for Akron’s community-owned magazine, The Devil Strip, where she focuses on evictions and tenant rights. She recently began work on a new book and sent us this section for publication in the Polity of Literature series. “What Breaks” documents one child’s encounter with writing and reading and the politics she found sited there. [This long-form poem is best viewed on a computer monitor, or on a device in a landscape orientation.]

/// My father is watching the news ///
                                       /// The news is breaking ///
                                                                               /// My father is breaking the news ///
/// A television screen snaps on. Snaps mute. I am inside ///
                                        /// the television screen. I interrupt a newscaster’s voice. Press pause. Eat clocks for breakfast. Beg state to keep me & us alive ///
                                                                                     /// It is 2008. What’s fact is not ///
                                                                                      /// true. What’s true is not ///
                                                                                     /// truth. My father explains ///
            A reporter hums. To break news is to break
            /// body ///
            /// Break human into /// not /// 
            /// being ///
It breaks my father seeing us dead. 
            In the shadow of a newscaster singing 
            us dead, I learn to recognize our names as numbers
            as drum beat      as quiver
            of television screen with each rocket shattered. 
A kettle shakes. For three weeks, my father dreams in yellow. We are in America, in some state, dissolving 
honey into black tea.                                          /// Gaza is on fire ///
The news is breaking my father. 
A death toll wings higher & higher. I am 13 years old. I learn death as synonym for Palestine. I learn Palestine as synonym for distant
far away land where my people break                 
                                                                /// the news ///   I go to school 
I come home I sleep I eat breakfast I go to school
a television skeletons 
on & on & on in our home my father skeletons 
on & on & on & there’s a bed & a body & my father’s eyes 
when I learn the word genocide in Advanced English
I am thinking about his eyes. The reflection 
of Al Jazeera jawing in his irises & mine. 
Questions before consumption (FOR SUBJECTS): 
If you watch your people die on the news, will it change the bend of your neck in a mirror?
Please describe the depth of your grief in the following space:  
If it were possible, if you could collect every story written about Palestine, would it build you a country? Please draw a country.  
A large rectangle
At what level must devastation reach before something matters? (Circle one of the following)
        A.  Not devastating. 
        B.  Somewhat devastating. 
        C.  Very devastating. 
        D.  Prefer not to answer.  
At what level must devastation reach before something changes? (Circle one of the following)
        E.  Not devastating. 
        F.  Somewhat devastating. 
        G.  Very devastating. 
        H.  Prefer not to answer.   

I read Night by Elie Wiesel & nightmare 
cruelty at 3 am each night I dream of moon & small children who 
become birds at each death         I learn death 
is mundane becomes ninth grade classroom drooling on   
as white classmates memorize character names how human becomes character how character 
becomes subject & theme & test reduce death 
to subject & theme & test 
& recognize information as reduction of brutality             to logic anything 
to turn it into 2,000 words
is to break human into (not) being & learn us all as (not) animal (not) culpable (not) guilty.
In the glow of a yellow screen, my English teacher smiles.
Projects the following: 
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as:
  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Choose a genocide from the following list — 
  • Rwandan
  • Cambodian
  • Armenian
  • The Holocaust
Using your understanding of genocides as we’ve learned in class, write a paper comparing and discussing the United Nations definition of genocides with texts we’ve read in class. Be sure to cite your sources using MLA format.  
The 2008 Gaza War was a genocide, I argue
to a classroom of white kids in nowhere, Ohio who can’t point to Nebraska on a map

to know where Palestine exists(?). 
To prove Israel has the intent to destroy the Palestinian people, one must first prove Palestinian bodies exist that I exist
as more than a face in the glare of my father’s television 
screen as more than just girl 
asking questions 
about Palestine to a father who, when (finally) looking at me, only sees 
America’s violence on my tongue 
when I ask: Show me Palestine on a map, please, in English. 
I know nothing 
about Palestine, only his trembling hands 
a spinning globe 
a finger pointing to a strip of land on a map 
named Israel. 
I learn my country at 12 years old as reflection of my body 
in black 
staring back 
at a white reporter on the grounds in Gaza
as settler colonial journalists 
as buzz of television 
at each bomb dropped 
at each howling mother 
vacant eyes looking at sky 
until it’s just me, the ghost of my father in the living 
room, and the silence 
of my silhouette 
gazing back. 
Questions before consumption (FOR VIEWERS): 
While watching people from the Middle East actively dying at the hands of my government, I feel (Please draw a face in the circle below to illustrate your emotions.)
A large rectangle with a large oval in its centre.
 How large a distance do you feel is between you and the Middle East? 
        A.  Very large. 
        B.  Somewhat large. 
        C.  Not large.  
Upon awareness of an atrocity, do you feel better or worse about yourself as a person? 
        A.  Better. 
        B.  Worse.  
Do you admit pleasure? 
        A.  Yes
        B.  No 
My father agrees to help me with my paper. He does not make anything easy. For days, it’s us, notebooks littered in pen marks, his voice, booming 
through our house, a slippery thesis statement, my desperate attempt to understand home, his desperate attempt to replant my body 
in Palestine’s soil. For weeks, my father walks me through Palestine’s history. I beg him to stay objective. I can’t use I in my paper. I can’t use my father as a documentable source. I can’t find 
his retelling of history in the history books I pick up from the libraries. The death tolls are higher in my father’s recollection. The number of bombs flown through the clouds. The number of imprisoned. 
I try to verify his facts. He reads me books in Arabic I don’t know how to cite in a four-six page paper. If I find them online, the sources are obscure, not peer-reviewed, not credible, not written 
by white male reporters, white historians, white professors. What my father tells me fades
to black. 
How do I know what you’re saying is true? I argue. 
I lived it. He shouts back. The records are wrong. 
Weeks later, I’ll submit a 15-page paper on the history of Palestine, on the ongoing massacre of the Palestinian people, on the continued genocide. 
It will be a good paper. It will receive an A-. It will overwhelm my teacher, who stops reading at page three. It will be MLA cited, with good, reputable sources. 
It will not change a thing. 
What’s missing is my father, collapsed on our tired, beige couch, having given up 
on me, our hours spent, the moments I could hear his voice almost crack, at a name, a number. How in these moments, he’d turn away, 
begin listing facts as fence between what hurts and what’s rational. 
Years later, I’ll learn the safety of numbers. How devastation can be reduced to a series of letters, numbers, symbols. Anything to distance us from hurt. 
Four months after the pandemic begins
Five days after George Floyd is murdered 
Two days before I officially begin a full time reporting job 
as an equity and inclusion reporter in an industry that headlines my people dead
is when I learn my father is right. 
Hours after covering Black Lives Matter protests, I type up my story. 
Pyramid diagram of the parts of a story.
The amount of tear gas thrown is disproportionate to the number of bodies in the crowd
                                                          (could it be proportionate????)               (no)
             /// I’m scared ///
                                                 /// I’m lonely ///
The face of the tear gas canister. How someone picks it up by its throat. Threatens to throw 

             it back at the officers. 
How my father—
How quickly a crowd of names and faces become a graveyard. 
             /// What sound sings you to sleep? ///
                                                       /// pop-pray-poem-plead ///
                         When I come home, my father wants to know about the tear gas. 
                         Instructs me on how quickly to run, how to use milk to quiet the pain. 
How blue the night. How my father smiles.         Slices 
a pomegranate in the kitchen. 
Two columns of white bold text on a black background. The text appears to be headlines about US and Israeli policing
We are knocking on doors. I am reporting on evictions during the pandemic. I’m searching for quotes from people who have upcoming eviction hearings. 
I have roughly two hours to knock on 15 people’s doors and collect a few quotes. I can not help them with their eviction. I can not offer them money. I can not enter their homes.
Do you know you have an upcoming eviction hearing? 
Will you show up to the hearing?
Do you have access to the internet?
Have you been impacted by the pandemic?
(How does it feel to know you may be kicked out of your home over Zoom?)
Spreadsheet list of Zoom eviction hearings.
*names and case numbers have been changed to protect identities. 
The photographer I am working with has grown impatient. He tells me he’ll be doing a police knock on doors “so they’ll answer.”
“We’ll tell them we’re from the welfare department.”
(a joke)           (cue laughter)           (cue violence)          (soft smile)          (don’t react)
A man answers the door. 
He was in the middle of taking a nap. Of making coffee. Of calling his nephew. Of living his life when we 
him with a police knock. 
“Hello, (NAME OF DEFENDANT). We’re from (NAME OF PAPER). Our names are (TELL DEFENDANT YOUR NAME) (SMILE) We're reporting on evictions and housing during the pandemic, and we noticed your name in an upcoming eviction hearing, scheduled for (DATE OF HEARING). We’re interested in hearing about your experience. Would you be willing to speak to us?” (SMILE) (GIVE COPY OF PAPER). 
The man does not want to speak to us. He was just taking a nap. Or making coffee. Or calling his nephew. Or living his life. 
The photographer creates a metaphor. 
Each story is a pebble that creates a ripple. Your story could be a pebble. With enough pebbles, we could create a wave. We could change the system. 
The man does not want to speak to us. Asks 
“What the fuck is your article going to do to prevent me from living in my car in 48 hours?”
Grainy image of a house with the word "Trump" painted above the front door
The article will do nothing to change the man’s life. 
This is not something I am comfortable admitting.          (even to myself)
To believe in words so much is to discount apathy. 
I attend over 100 hours of eviction hearings. Over Zoom, I watch countless people lose their homes. I learn how mundane violence can be, the hours droning on, my eyes watching a clock, the quiet look of defeat on each tenant’s face. 
I grow bored. I learn all kinds of words — Writ of restitution. Forcible entry and detainer. First cause of action. 
The hearings last, on average, seven minutes. Tenants either show up or don’t.
If they do show up, they’ve already typed in the Zoom ID and passcode for their hearing:
Tuesday, January 5 at 9:00 a.m. – ID – 942 8077 6885, PW – 9AMEvict
Tuesday, January 5 at 9:30 a.m. – ID – 970 9537 0954, PW – 930AMEvict
Tuesday, January 5 at 10:00 a.m. – ID – 961 9063 9298, PW – 10AMEvict
Tuesday, January 5  at 10:30 a.m. – ID – 936 2405 9936, PW – 1030AMEvic
The magistrates go on the record. The evictions are being recorded. We begin with the case number.  
Repetition of the phrase "Writ of restitution not be allowed in this case" with the word "not" crossed out, and the word "be" circled
At an interview with the magistrate judges, I wish to ask about empathy. 
We hear sad facts very often. But ultimately, we have to follow the law.
There are snowflakes outside my window. Who put them there. 
grainy image of eviction notice text
Can a fact be sad? I wish to know. 
In Palestine, Israeli courts force Palestinian families to demolish their own homes. 
The Palestinian Colonisation and Wall Resistance Commission reports that Israeli forces demolished 313 homes during the first half of 2020. 
Israeli law prevents families from building homes without a building permit. 
It’s almost impossible to obtain a permit if you’re Palestinian. 
That same report concludes Israel issued 129 eviction notices, forcing over 700 Palestinians to vacate their homes under this law. 
Ultimately we have to follow the law, says the judge. 
It is 1948 when over 700,000 Palestinians are evicted from their homes.
Of them, my great-grandparents. 
It is 1974 when my father sees his home for the first time. When Israel opens the border allowing Palestinian refugees to re-enter parts of Palestine, my father and great-grandfather visit their home. Before this, they’d been living in Kalandia Refugee Camp, set up by the United Nations. 
There, they meet an Arab-Jewish woman of Moroccan descent living in the home my great-grandfather built. It has been 26 years. My great-grandfather can not recognize the streets he once claimed as his, the land he once occupied. He is a tourist in his own country. 
My father is 13. When the woman invites them to sit on her (my great-grandfather’s?) porch, to drink black tea with sugar, they accept her kindness. 
During the visit, my great-grandfather is 72. When describing him, my father focuses on his eyes, the ways they would squint and narrow in on Palestine as if it were a blurry image he was attempting to decipher.
Sir, do you recognize where you are? 
Walk behind me. I’ll lead you.
What did you see in his eyes? 
“It was as if time had stopped. His features were indicative that he was troubled. He was silent, as if he’d lost the compass of directions. I kept looking at his face but it was not easy to read his face. He kept looking at the house as if he was trying to print the picture in his mind in every minute detail. He looked at doors, windows, the orchard trees he’d planted . . . everything.” 
Did you enter the home? 
“I entered without permission. It was large and tiled with red tiles. I kept comparing it to the home we lived in at the refugee camp, which we metaphorically called ‘home.’ After I left, I addressed the women. I said, ‘This is our home. We have to come back here. We want to come back.’”
What did she say? 
“She was strange. She raised her arms to the sky. She said, ‘Inshallah, I hope you return to your home and I return to my home, habibi.’”

Signup for the ArtsEverywhere newsletter

icon-angle icon-bars icon-times