by Issam Zineh

“The combined effects of low mass and dark energy could mean that the universe will expand forever because there is too little mass to provide sufficient gravity to rein it in.”
— Simon Mitton, The Lancet

“how if my parents had made different / decisions three decades ago, / it could have been my arm / sticking out of a mass grave”
— Lenelle Moïse, “quaking conversation”

Much has been written about mass—physical property; resistance. In one account, the universe is
weighed & found wanting. In another, homes are demolished.


When I think mass, I think exemption. I think imbalance of lonely body. I think old conspiracy. I
think bluest flame. I think of how you exchanged your song for someone else’s, for the velocity of
your own flourishing galaxy. I think my own irrefutable theory.


Our first nor’easter after moving, my mother & I are caught without shovels. We plow the
driveway with an old wooden headboard the previous owners left behind. Hours in she tells me she
can see my future. I’ll get gout like my grandmother. It will feel like someone separated my big
toe from the ball of my foot, placed shards of glass in the joint, reconnected the toe & hit it with a
hammer. I’ll also have a herniated disc. The pain will be so bad I won’t be able to get my dick up.
She says you don’t have to be a Buddhist to know life is suffering


For the warm, ascended Christ

For my salt-whipped mother who is too much mother & too much wife, whose grief is a suitcase
with a body in it

For the five U.S. Army soldiers of the 502nd Infantry who gang raped & murdered the 14-year-old
Iraqi girl who shared my sister’s name, & killed her father who, for a living, protected the date
orchard, & her mother & her baby sister who loved hide-n-seek & the sweet plant in the yard; for
these five instruments of change who in the weeks before gawked & gave mom the thumbs up,
“Very good. Very good;” who on the day of, weary from playing cards & hitting golf balls into
the sun & drinking whiskey & Red Bull, left the checkpoint for the one-bedroom home, broke arms, shot into chests & faces, lifted a dress over a head, tore underwear, lit a body on fire from
stomach down; who went out to celebrate their kill with a meal of chicken wings

For our own needs & intentions that we now recall in our hearts [6 second pause], we pray to the
Lord: Lord, hear our prayer


Do you ever think about our old apartment? How cold it got our last winter together? That night
you told me shame was just a point in time. That sometimes you can love someone so much the
only way to show it is through violence. That you wanted to unzip my skin & climb into the body.

Poem Note: The poem alludes to war crimes perpetrated against Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and her family in Al-Mahmoudiyah, Iraq in 2006. The line that begins “For our own needs and intentions…” comes from an online repository of petition prayers to be offered up during Catholic Mass (

Issam Zineh is a Palestinian-American poet and scientist. He is author of the forthcoming poetry collection Unceded Land (Trio House Press, 2022) and the chapbook The Moment of Greatest Alienation (Ethel, 2021). His poems appear or are forthcoming in AGNI, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. Find him at or on Twitter @izineh.