From Issue 21: "Unceded Land" by Issam Zineh (Poetry)

Reading time: Approximately 3 minutes

What struck me most about this love poem was the humility of the speaker as he holds two contradictory feelings: admiration for his love and a recognition of a violent history on the ground where he stands. The surprise in the ending gave me enormous pleasure. This is the title poem in Zineh's poetry debut, forthcoming from Trio House Press. 

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Jessica Cuello

Poetry Editor

Unceded Land

by Issam Zineh

This part of the cape is known for oysters. That part’s known for turnips. 

The playhouse is closed until next season. I keep reporting in this way.    

     fort          hill          rock          harbor

We stand at the edge of town cove. You ask why 

I brought you here and if I remember any of the original intensity.

The sun is a kind of gratitude, you say, a continuously 

   ringing bell in the lower belly that we can breathe right into.

You have done it again, this time without the modesty

it might require:                      taken your cresting pain and turned it into a


You will come clean if I ask.

We should start seeing goldfinches this time of year.

How would you describe a warble to someone who has never heard one?

A music without words, a euphemism in the cessation of sound, 

a scarce Bedouin music where we are in tents and pour each other out, 

bloated, amorous, into little bone cups for drinking. 

                                                                                    I say,

                 we might be standing on unceded land.

Light in a field. 

                                     You say, I have no need 

                                                  of such things. Just sing to me, baby, just sing.


***reprinted with permission of the poet



Issam Zineh had this to say about his work:

This poem lived the first two decades of its life as a formal sonnet called “A Music without Words.” The earliest versions wrestled with love and intimacy but were not grounded in a sense of place. I’ve mostly lived in places with histories of colonial violence. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly interested in territory as both demarcated physical and psychological spaces. “Unceded Land” emerged once I placed the relationship of this poem into the physical territory of New England (the ancestral land of the Nauset people in particular, aka Cape Cod), where I lived for many years.

Issam Zineh (he/him) is a Los Angeles-born, Palestinian-American poet and scientist and author of The Moment of Greatest Alienation (Ethel Press, forthcoming 2021). Twitter @izineh