"You pass the time how?" asks the interrogator. "No problem. I dream and write my Poems." "How can you write with no paper and pen?"
"I write with my memory."
What would I have done had I not invented the Poem to talk to? Died of strangulation ... but for these gentle visits which come in unexpected, unconnected like a rapid stream flowing not in linear time nor place. What could I have accomplished if I'd been able to record them as I watched them connect, forming loose links in a chain in the midst of unchallenged and absolute emptiness? That was possible for a great poet like Nathem Hikmat. He sat alone challenging the decay of his cell. He had paper and pen and wrote down his thoughts. He wrote his Poems and letters and painted his pains with a real brush. I understand you now, Nathem Hikmat, better than ever before ... even though once when I read you I imagined I lived where you are. Your words seem remote now, but I can pinpoint the small island of your poetry, a word away from shouting but near the edge of weeping for the universe lost in the dark. The screams of your people were torture and you lived your own tragedy all the while, a tale with which men can empathize. The struggle, the birthpangs of the Poem which would not be born were terrible in their futile intensity. It would not come ... although tremendous glimpses lived in your letters to Munnawar, your wife. You wrote prose and then poetry, but you set afire the ends of your Poems and followed them into worlds few have entered. Large worlds, like rooms, finite, precise, enchanted. Oh great poet, perhaps I share your tragedy here in my cell, quiet and silent except for the screams of the soul and the endless questions about powers and forces which trample - 'till when? - on the people's desire for justice. Your desire, in your case, was for an end to a domestic dictator whose stranglehold on your people had long become unbearable. My desire, in my case, is to have children in a life free from fear.
the news of the people, the world and the homeland
the news of the birds, trees, the wolf and the stone
I carry to the people in the bag of my heart at midnight or at dawn
for my poetry makes me a postman for humanity
How do these words of yours sound in Turkish? Translation is disturbing, the more so concerning poetry you carry in the bag of you heart. The vibrations lose much of their beauty and tremor when the shades of meaning and the music and the metaphor known only to the poet are changed.
I say to you: ask that unborn child if he will
agree to leave without a promise ...
give him over to adoption without memory ...
and leave him with no chain ...
let him swim alone in the bloody blue clouds,
cut off from his mother's breast ...
don't disturb him with your voice ...
don't kill him with your silence ...
don't crucify him with your dream ...
he does not want Jasmine nor the wreaths of glory.
He is your voice, he is your silence,
he is your dream.
The unborn child refuses birth without a promise. I see our children without a childhood. They leap over this innocent and tortured stage, running into the world's ferocity with no childhood as inheritance. A man like you understands. You hear when I speak of heart blood and my heart's bleeding. Dear Nathem, when one of our poets stepped out of the maze of Naqab he wrote a Poem about a Jewish child who stirred him to his heart's depth. The child, the son of a soldier, was taken by his father on a visit to Ketziot detention camp, which we know as Ansar III. This child was as all children - in his innocence, his impish beauty, his shaggy 10cks ... He moved the poet,
who saw his daughter, who could not come on a visit. He imagined an embrace, a forehead kiss ... and a Poem burst forth like ash from a volcano with rage and a wasted tear.
We all yearn for childhood and its saving grace, its pure power to move men and events up and out of the bottom, its memory of birth and weakness and ongoing life. But when the guns blaze and their voices drown out all others, is that merely sad?
When in prison you wrote to your people, to your wife, Munnawer, and to your friends. You wrote to the dictator waiting, lurking in the blood of all rulers. We write, as well, to our people and our wives and children and friends ... and to another people who live here with us. Our song must be sung in two languages or our home is lost forever. We must share the rooms in the house with Jewish people, watching and checking those who might refuse this arrangement and seek to throw one or the other out. Dear
Nathem, we too respond with all our hearts and minds to your dying wish:
"Comrades, if I die before the day of salvation, which is likely, then bury me in a cemetery in a village in the Anadol. Place one flower above my head with no epitaph nor gravestone." But Nathem, you lived away and died away, and Siberia was too far removed from the Anadol. But for us, we need an epitaph and we desire a gravestone.
Jabalya refugee camp is piled on itself at sunset like flaming coals piled on a cookstove. It was June and the streets of the camp swelled under my feet like boils red and inflamed. People in the streets almost lost their normal countenances. I saw them as if watching a newsreel, which is wound too tight and after a screenburn the features disappear in a flash. They walked as if looking for garbage, for anything left in the street just to pick it up and throw it away, just to get rid of it. At the door to our shack I stood busy like the others, picking up my feet and looking for something I could discard. My mother's eyes looked suddenly fearful. My younger brothers run in the corrugated tin gate and then out of it. Voices ... voices. I didn't ask about all the excitement, this was normal fare in the Intifada.
I wanted to join the others, to throw and run but my mother called me back. "What would I do if anything happened to you?" she chastised me. "What would I do with your father who lies there weak on the mattress on the floor. He does not move unless you move him. And your brothers. Who else but you do they have?" So I didn't jump with the others. I went on to work and watched the Intifada from a distance. I didn't ask what was happening. They came running from all directions and this time they stopped and gathered in front of our house. They carried Frowzy on their shoulders. Frowzy was the neighbor's son and now he wallowed in his own blood. Frowzy was more to me than a brother. He and I were twin spirits. We were schoolmates, sharing bread, games and the dreams of refugees. "With Spirit and Blood ... " Fawwaz is now a martyr. His is the voice of a martyr, the wing of a martyr. His camp is the camp of a martyr. Now I am running with the others. The Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot reports a terrorist from Gaza killed a doctor on Tel Aviv's Hadron Street. I kept the newspaper clipping with my picture covered in blood. I know you hate blood and want to see a pure, unsullied Intifada. But this is the way it happened.
My letters haven't arrived yet. They may not. I am the eighth among you, I will write them. Repeat them until iron hears - this is not clamor, this is not shouting, and yet neither is it quiet. Will I be able to reach the edge with the Poem still as my entrance, and still I dream of taking it up noiselessly, fearlessly. How can I still feel that way while the courtyard is witness to the passing of innocence, to guilty knowledge after a hanging?!