Tense Times

Tense times for me,
and sleep’s acting like a newly love-struck teen.
I shall disregard the state my heart’s in
and my mind’s upheavals like water bubbling
past the boiling point.

I am a part of the universe with which the universe is angry,
a part of the earth of which the earth feels utterly ashamed,
a wretched human towards whom
other humans cannot maintain neutrality.

Neutrality: an illusion
like all the graces of which humans speak, so shamelessly theoretical.
Truth is an inadequate term, just like Man,
and love bumps about,
a miserable fly
trapped in a glass box.
Freedom is very relative:
all said and done we live in a ball-shaped prison
barred with ozone.
Set free, our fate
is certain death.

I am incapable of laughing.
Completely incapable of smiling, even.
Incapable, at the same time, of crying.
Incapable of acting like a human being,
which doesn’t upset me in the slightest
though it hurts so
to have a body covered with light down,
to walk on two limbs,
to depend wholly on your mind,
to be drawn after your desires to the furthest point,
to have your freedom trapped,
to have others decide to kill you,
to miss those closest to you
without a chance to say farewell.

What good does Farewell do
but leave a sad impression?
What good’s meeting?
What good’s love?
What good is it to be this alive
while others die from sorrow
over you?

I saw my father for the last time through thick glass
then he departed, for good.
Because of me, let’s say.
Let us say because he could not bear the thought
I’d die before him.
My father died and left death to besiege me
without it frightening me sufficiently.
Why does death scare us to death?
My father departed after a long time
spent on the surface of this planet.
I didn’t say farewell as I should have
nor grieve for him as I should have
and was incapable of tears,
as is my habit, which grows uglier with time.

The soldiers besiege me on all fronts
in uniforms of poor color.
Laws and regimes and statutes besiege me.
Sovereignty besieges me,
a highly concentrated instinct that living creatures cannot shake.
My loneliness besieges me.
My loneliness chokes me.
I am choked by depression, nervousness, worry.
Remorse, that I’m a member of the human race, kills me.
I was unable to say goodbye to all those I love
and who departed, even temporarily.
I was unable to leave a good impression of a last meeting.
Then I yielded to the rifles of longing
leveled my way.
I refused to raise my hand
and became incapacitated.
Then I was bound by sorrow
that failed to force me to tears.

The Knowing gnaws at me from within,
killing every shot I have at survival.
The Knowing is killing me slowly
and it’s much too late for a cure.

— Ashraf Fayadh
(Trans. by Guardian.com)

Palestinian-born Ashraf Fayadh was arrested by Saudi religious police in August 2013 and charged with cursing Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia, and promoting atheism. He was released on bail, but was rearrested on January 1, 2014. On November 17, 2015, he was sentenced to death for heresy. In February 2016, his death sentence was overturned and he was sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes.

Bats

Bats on my windows
suck in my words
Bats at the entrance to my house
behind newspapers, in corners
trail my footsteps,
observing every movement of my head

From the back of the chair, bats watch me
They trail me in the streets
watching my eyes pause
on books, on young girls’ legs . . .
they watch and watch

On my neighbor’s balcony, bats,
and electronic gadgets hidden in the walls
Now bats are on the verge
of suicide
I am digging a road to daylight.

— Samih al-Qasim

Palestinian rights activist and poet Samih al-Qasim was born in 1939, although he sometimes claimed to have been born in 1948, when his village in Galilee was bombed by the Israeli army. As an adult, he lived in Haifa, where he joined the Israeli Communist Party in 1967. His poetry was often censored by Israeli military (his second book, Songs of Alleys, 1965, was full of empty pages). At the beginning of the Six-Day War in 1967, he was sent to al-Damoun prison. He was jailed several more times for his pro-Palestinian activism.

[Research note: Roger Hardy, “Palestinian Writers in Israel,” Boston Review (December 1982); and Liam Brown, “Samih al-Qasim and the language of revolution,” Middle East Eye (May 13, 2014)].

I Come From There

I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.
I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland….

— Mahmoud Darwish

The tomb of Mahmoud Darwish, Ramallah, West BankRawan Nassrallah / CC BY-SA 3.0

The tomb of Mahmoud Darwish,
Ramallah, West Bank
Rawan Nassrallah / CC BY-SA 3.0

Poet-activist Mahmoud Darwish grew up a “present-absent alien” (internal refugee) in the Palestine after his family home and village were destroyed in the war(s) of 1948. An increasingly outspoken critic of the Israeli government, he was arrested and ultimately placed under house arrest in the 1960s when his poem “ID (Identity) Card” was set to music as a protest anthem. He left the Palestine in 1970 and joined the PLO in 1973; he was subsequently banned from returning to the region. He lived in exile for 26 years, returning to the West Bank only in 1996.

Tickets

The day I’m killed
my killer will find
tickets in my pockets:
One to peace,
one to fields and the rain,
and one
to humanity’s conscience.

I beg you — please don’t waste them.
I beg you, you who kill me: Go.

— Samih al-Qasim
(Trans. by Nazih Kassis)

Palestinian rights activist and poet Samih al-Qasim was born in 1939, although he sometimes claimed to have been born in 1948, when his village in Galilee was bombed by the Israeli army. As an adult, he lived in Haifa, where he joined the Israeli Communist Party in 1967. His poetry was often censored by Israeli military (his second book, Songs of Alleys, 1965, was full of empty pages). At the beginning of the Six-Day War in 1967, he was sent to al-Damoun prison. He was jailed several more times for his pro-Palestinian activism.

[Research note: This poem comes from Samih al-Qasim’s 2005 collection, Sadder Than Water, which draws on earlier work. See also: Roger Hardy, “Palestinian Writers in Israel,” Boston Review (December 1982); and Liam Brown, “Samih al-Qasim and the language of revolution,” Middle East Eye (May 13, 2014).].

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.
In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows
And carried the soul in my palm
For an Arab Palestine.
I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”
Never lower my flags
Until I evict them from my land.
I cast them aside for a coming time.
Resist, my people, resist them.
Resist the settler’s robbery
And follow the caravan of martyrs.
Shred the disgraceful constitution
Which imposed degradation and humiliation
And deterred us from restoring justice.
They burned blameless children;
As for Hadil, they sniped her in public,
Killed her in broad daylight.
Resist, my people, resist them.
Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.
Pay no mind to his agents among us
Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.
Do not fear doubtful tongues;
The truth in your heart is stronger,
As long as you resist in a land
That has lived through raids and victory.
So Ali called from his grave:
Resist, my rebellious people.
Write me as prose on the agarwood;
My remains have you as a response.
Resist, my people, resist them.
Resist, my people, resist them.

— Dareen Tatour
(Trans. by Tariq al Haydar)

On October 3, 2015, Palestinian-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour posted “Resist, My People, Resist Them” to YouTube. On October 11th, she was arrested and charged with the intent to incite violence and supporting a terrorist organization. After three months in prison, she was placed under house arrest in Tel Aviv.

Oil is Harmless

Oil is harmless, except for the trace of poverty it leaves behind

the day, when the faces of those who discover another oil well go dark,
and your heart — will be filled with new life so that your soul is resurrected as oil
for public consumption.
This is the promise of oil — a promise that will come to pass—

The end

— Ashraf Fayadh
(Trans. by Mona Kareem)

Palestinian-born Ashraf Fayadh was arrested by Saudi religious police in August 2013 and charged with cursing Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia, and promoting atheism with his poetry. He was released on bail, but was arrested again on January 1, 2014. On November 17, 2015, he was sentenced to death for heresy. In February 2016, his death sentence was commuted to eight years in prison and 800 lashes.