Two of Hanan's poems
Some words are hard to pronounce—
He-li-cop-ter is most vexing
(A-pa-che or Co-bra is impossible)
But how it can stand still in the sky
I cannot understand—
What holds it up
What bears its weight
(Not clouds, I know)
It sends a flashing light—so smooth--
It makes a deafening sound
The house shakes
(There are holes in the wall by my bed)
And I have a hard time sleeping
(I felt ashamed when I wet my bed, but no one scolded me).
Plane—a word much easier to say—
It flies, tayyara,
My mother told me
A word must have a meaning
A name must have a meaning
(Hadeel, the cooing of the dove)
Tanks, though, make a different sound
They shudder when they shoot
Dabbabeh is a heavy word
As heavy as its meaning.
Hadeel—the dove—she coos
My Mother—she cries
And cries and cries
My Brother—Rami—he lies
And lies and lies, his eyes
Hit by a bullet in the head
(bullet is a female lead—rasasa—she kills,
my pencil is a male lead—rasas—he writes)
What’s the difference between a shell and a bullet?
Numbers are more vexing than words—
I count to ten, then ten-and-one, ten-and-two
But what happens after ten-and-ten,
How should I know?
Rami, my brother, was one
Of hundreds killed—
They say thousands are hurt,
But which is more
A hundred or a thousand (miyyeh or alf)
I cannot tell—
So big--so large--so huge—
Too many, too much.
Palestine—Falasteen—I’m used to,
It’s not so hard to say,
It means we’re here—to stay--
Even though the place is hard
On kids and mothers too
For soldiers shoot
And airplanes shell
And tanks boom
And tear gas makes you cry
(Though I don’t think it’s tear gas that makes my mother cry)
I’d better go and hug her
Sit in her lap a while
Touch her face (my fingers wet)
Look in her eyes
Until I see myself again
A girl within her mother’s sight.
If words have meaning, Mama,
What is Is-ra-el?
What does a word mean
if it is mixed
If all soldiers, tanks, planes and guns are
What are they doing here
In a place I know
In a word I know—(Palestine)
In a life that I no longer know?
by Hanan Ashrawi
Areej—the Scent of Youth and Death
Your name still wafts through
Alleys and centuries of stone with
Which old Hebron—Khalil the Compassionate—
No mercy there
Only settlers strutting
Gloating in the knowledge that the siege,
Barbed wire and curfew,
Encircle only you
For theirs is the space
Erased from the law
A blank page stained with
Spilled blood and scribbles of insanity
While yours is the youth and blood spilled—what
Almost, almost unnoticed, into crevices
Where memory almost sleeps.
(In Hebron, an 18-year-old woman died, caught in the crossfire)
You almost finished high school, with
Your unwritten certificate, a pass—
Safe passage through a different siege, instead,
A bland testimonial of blind death groping—obscene
Bullets, how many, penetrating virgin flesh
Untouched, violated now unseen,
The evil of anonymous listings, Areej, shall not
Rob you of that which is yours: the thick
Long lashes, ruddy cheeks, lips full of unkissed
Promises (You should be happy, child, your
Mother said, no need for blush, mascara
Or fake vanities). I saw you,
Face made up, wrapped in your coffin, not my
(Or your mother’s) arms.
Artificial death. Its ugliness left no mark,
(Your hair a glossy main—no head wounds
The neighbor’s boy was smitten. Averting your
Eyes, Areej, you sensed his urgent
Need, modesty prevailed,
The promise postponed,
Blessed are the pure.
The soldier boy obsessed with the kill
(Have you become an etched x on the nozzle of his gun?)
Perhaps his first?
Daughter, heir, of ancient Abraham, your Hebron
Dowry is heavy, pregnant with history and horror.
What exchange of fire caught you? Trapped, you cast a
Glance of anger, perhaps a look of contempt
(Disdain does not become you)
He fired back a bullet, and you’re
Frozen, your moment of immortality
Captured, as you, caught by surprise,
Wondered, for an unrepentant second, is this all?
Is this it?
And he, an instant murderer, let out a breath—
This is it.
Unrepentant, forever branded,
His nameless victim eternally engraved
Within what makes him what he is,
What he will always be.
Although your eyes had never met, he wears
The stench of death, and you—the
Scent of youth.
Areej, the fragrance of wild flowers
Wafting through the hills of Hebron, yours
Is no abstract death
And mine is no impersonal sorrow. Your
Mother has granted me the right to share
Her grief—a mother too—
In the heart of bereaved Jerusalem.
No, no wedding ululations,
False courage before cowardly death,
Forging endings way before
Time, and your breasts, have ripened.
You will not learn, Areej, the full
Fact of your death,
But we do, and shall.
Forgive me for not letting it pass
Unnoticed, hovering in numbers,
Headlines, and withering wreaths.
Forgive me for letting it
Come to pass, unwittingly, like a sidelined
Chorus of fate in the face of tragic choice.
(It was not mine to make, nor yours,
But years ago, someone signed a pact that sealed your
Fate, and made the choice for both).
Have you found your peace, Areej?
One chance after the last chance
Found you unprepared, unadorned,
Your guilt—an unforgivable innocence
Immersed in hope, freedom within your grasp.
Is yours the ultimate iniquity of natural
Life before unnatural death? Of daring?
Humming a tune to yourself while hanging
Laundry on the roof to dry? The sharp
Pain of a loose clothespin drawing a drop of blood?
The gaze cast over rooftops, a daydream
Of college or the boy next door?
Too early, too late, daughter of Palestine,
Time cast you into misplaced peace
Into a realm of almost
And the sin of unfinished
As magnificently mundane
As the flag that enfolded you.
As ritualistic as a mother’s incantation,
A prayer for the innocents: Lead us not into
Heroism for the pain of a child,
The death of a child, is anguish beyond
It is done. It is undone. It is not done.
by Hanan Ashrawi