Please find below four poems as entries to the Creative Writing Contest—Palestine.
The first three poems are for the Naqba category, and the last for the Prisoner category.
Reaching Nod has been previously published in Snakeskin Magazine, but the other three are all unpublished.
The Feda’i and The Prisoner are two poems from a collection of 22 unpublished poems called ‘A Gazan Tarot’. All 22 poems concern Gaza and its occupation. They are in the canzone form.
Nigel Holt is a British expatriate who has lived and worked in the UAE for the past 15 years. He has been published in many international magazines and journals. He is also a keen supporter of Palestinian rights.
Dust to Dust
He comes in ’48, Al Naqba dust
upon his heels, his brother in Oman,
and all the kids and ‘Ayesha in Shatila.
Alarms had sounded in the night—they ran
taking the house key, expecting to return.
By ’68 the house in Najd is dust;
Dubai has pearls, his brother’s in Oman
and all the kids and ‘Ayesha in Shatila.
Each month he sends them cash, his plan,
the same—so simple—expecting to return.
By ’88 come settlements from dust;
his business and his brother’s in Oman,
has taken the kids and ‘Ayesha from Shatila.
No passport in Dubai, an exiled man
He dies without expecting to return.
The wind has cursed us while we’ve mounted;
the sun has sucked the rains from every leaf.
The sand has smothered everything we’ve counted;
heat has wrung us out without relief.
We’ve gathered up our memories, kin, belief
and ridden towards the shimmering vague horizon
to catch our clouds that God himself has scattered,
to where the killing eye now rises on
the pilgrims to the green, begrimed and battered,
kings of sweat and lands that never mattered.
Cast out, adrift, we labour through the sand.
The weaker of two powers, we ride. Cast out:
zealous fire burns behind us in the hand
catastrophe has stripped of any doubt.
To Nod we ride in the panic of a rout.
We seek the dark oasis and its mercy;
its trees to give us shelter, give us fruit,
and arriving in the haze, our beasts all curtsy,
weary of the way, parched and mute,
unaccustomed to the traffic of Beirut.
Disaster drove us from each farm and village
as once drought drove us to the vagrant rain.
And then as now, no land to hold for tillage:
we’re just the city’s memory of pain;
the yellow of a smoker ‘s finger-stain.
The clouds are always far enough and wander
through the vista of the camp we call our homes;
occasionally it shakes with claps of thunder
and mocks the weary traveller as he roams
the quartier where you find the gastronomes.
The black and white that forms the early dawn
—A keffiyah’s mix of in-between two states—
is when our eyes arise; when a child is born
between the dark and light, and re-creates
the hope that ties together all our fates.
We watch the skies in case of new disaster,
when sands can come to drive us further on.
For nature, like the wolf’s a fickle master,
and guarded lambs are quickly snatched and gone.
Safe journey through this world’s an eidolon.
A home? No, no. I haven’t had a home
since 1948. These days I roam
the streets, around the camp—a home
that all my relatives now call their home.
Four generations in one house. One room
they keep for me. But this is not a real home—
It’s just a prison that we call our home,
a symbol that our people are alone
today as much as we were once alone,
when Irgun came and drove us from our home.
That day my home became my father’s tomb.
They made the majlis become a bleeding tomb,
then burned the house they turned into his tomb.
I wasn’t ever able to go home;
the ‘dozers came and swept away his tomb,
and now my fading memory’s his tomb
(wherever it might be I choose to roam.)
Five years I wandered in that darkest tomb
of anger and regret. I was a tomb
myself, locked away inside the room
I shared with other fedayeen. Our room
fermented bitterness, it was the tomb
of men who’d given up—were left alone,
no family, no brothers, sons, alone,
save vengeance and despair. We stood alone.
Alone and far from home within a tomb
that we could not escape from—not alone.
Old Palestine was gone. The Jews alone
now held the land we’d called our home
and taken hold of everything alone.
We did not have a friend. We were alone,
looking in on lands we knew. We roam
these camps—the only land they let us roam.
We had no choice: we had to fight alone
to take back what was ours. There was no room
for pity on the Jews. There was no room
for sympathy, grenades thrown in the room
did not take out the fighting men alone.
Often there’d be women in the room,
their children playing in the living room
that in five seconds would become their tomb.
We never checked back later in the room,
we knew the secrets of that bloody room
too well. In Qibya, they had turned each home
into a ruin, had made each farmer’s home
a martyrdom. Through each bombed-out room
the living sought the dead, the men would roam
the village for a child. All night they’d roam,
a pointless, wasted exercise. They roam
still every single night inside this room
within a dream they share with men who roam
the self-same dreams and nightmares. Each night they roam
the catacombs of memory still alone.
All of us who dream that dream, we roam
today as yesterday. Our children roam
as once we did and make a brand new tomb
built from our hopelessness. A modern tomb
for those who have no hope or home. We roam
beneath the sight of men, no hope of home,
for fate decrees they hold on to our home
—the land we once were pleased to call our home.
For brothers, sisters, mothers it’s a tomb
we can’t reconquer with our will alone,
yet we must fight to make them give us room.
Our land is on the road we’re forced to roam.
It’s never just a question of your guilt,
that’s something you soon learn to face.
‘Arrested on suspicion’ carries guilt,
‘loitering with intent’—that’s also guilt,
the shaky house on Nasser Street you built
without a council permit—also guilt.
Keffiyahs round the neck? Oh yes! That’s guilt!
And try your damnedest, if you fight the case,
you quickly learn you can’t defend the case
as simply there’s a reason for your guilt,
a subtle something that you can’t erase:
you’re Palestinian. You can’t erase
the fact you’re Arab; you can’t in fact erase
the fact you came out of your mother, guilt
upon you—a mark of Cain you can’t erase
no matter how much time goes by. Erase
that nomad look of hope from off your face
that wanders in then limps away, erase
the thought from your bleak prison walls, erase
it from the concrete facts the army built
around your shadow-life until they’d built
the perfect case against you. You can’t erase
the fact that they have laws—and just in case
you thought it might not always be the case
the Shin Bet has the details of the case
recorded safely somewhere. You can’t erase
the mails, the chats in cafes that form the case
they build against you. Fight it? Fuck it! Hard case
that you might be, your sin is wrapped in guilt,
its quite original—you’re cursed by God. The case
cannot resist the weight of law your case
attracts. There’s something in your stoic face
that dreams of will and wants so hard to face
the logic of this guilt that taints your case,
the logic that your blood’s a squat that’s built
illegally on promised land, that’s built
on strips of fable. This is the case they’ve built.
Whatever they decide, we know the case
is lost. It could not ever win. In case
you still believe in fairness—justice built
on democratic principles—erase
that thought, for this, our quiet prison’s built
on silent grounds. This soundless prison’s built
on inequality, on blood, on guilt
that stymies rights in racist laws, a guilt
turned upside-down, till brick by brick it’s built
into a youthful conscript’s loaded face
that’s cocked and staring you right in the face.
I know that look of old despair, we face
it claiming back a field on which they’ve built
a town—its hospital, no Arab face
will ever see inside. We have to face
the truth, as hard as that may be. The case
will be thrown out. Justice wears a face
that looks like ours, but is another’s face.
Its darker features masked, it can erase
a history, a nation, truth. Erase
it—and they try! A trace remains, a face
wiped clean of blood and shame still drips with guilt,
it lingers in the afternoons, a guilt
that hangs in the air, oppressive perfumed guilt
that no fresh bursts of artifice erase.
It’s like we’re just not there—or worse—the case
where prisons of this certain flesh are built
to kill the past and future we all face.
The Center for Political and Development Studies (CPDS) organised a writing contest a year ago on Prisoners and Nakba and recieved these submissions. They are sent to Gaza Scoop exclusively.
Yousef Aljamal, CPDS.