Featuring Palestinian Voices, part 4: Palestinian poetry for National Poetry Month 

This National Poetry Month, we continue to honour and stand alongside the Palestinian people, who resist the ongoing colonization of their lands, apartheid, and genocide perpetuated by Israel. Literature and art are cultural testimonies, and Palestinian writing continues to affirm Palestinians’ rights to their homeland.

Writing is part of a larger cultural resistance effort. Most recently, the Toronto Public Library removed Dr Refaat Alareer’s poem, “If I Must Die,” from their display. (Readers can contact TPL about the removal of the poem via answerline@tpl.ca or 416-397-5981.) Dr Refaat Alareer was martyred by an Israeli airstrike on December 7, 2023. On today, April 26, 2024, the IOF killed his eldest daughter Shaimaa Alareer, an accomplished Palestinian illustrator, for whom he wrote that very poem.

As we hold onto the memories of Palestinian martyrs with grief and rage, as we read and engage with Palestinian writing and art, we must remember that there is a greater call for us to stand for Palestinian liberation in material ways. And that is a call we must answer — including calling on the government to materially enforce an arms embargo on Israel and remove the discriminatory 1000-applicant cap on Palestinians in Gaza applying for refuge.

Let these poems guide us—

 


 

“If I must die,” by Refaat Alareer

If I must die,

you must live 

to tell my story 

to sell my things 

to buy a piece of cloth 

and some strings, 

(make it white with a long tail) 

so that a child, somewhere in Gaza 

while looking heaven in the eye 

awaiting his dad who left in a blaze— 

and bid no one farewell 

not even to his flesh 

not even to himself— 

sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above

and thinks for a moment an angel is there 

bringing back love 

If I must die 

let it bring hope

let it be a tale

 

[Note: Refaat Alareer was martyred on Dec 7, 2023.]

 

“Languaging Memory,” by leena aboutaleb, via Poetry Online

You, we, I. Do you remember? He was your age now. Tall. The rifle. Four, then seven, then ten. 

Qalandia. Ramallah. September. Yarmouk. Kuwait. Can you say the name? Everyone wants futility. Let 

them languish and despair, disguising pride in cowardice. I am born in fugitive, the cover of eternity 

clothing me. If not this life, the next. If not us, the next.

 

“The Idea Has Failed,” by Basman Aldirawi, translated by Elete N-F & Sarah Lasoye, via Arab Lit

I sympathize with God a lot: 

My heart, too, has been let down. 

If we could sit together now 

we’d share a cigarette. I’d rest my hand on His shoulder, and 

we’d cry together until a light rain fell, 

washing Gaza of this cloud of smoke

that does not belong to the sky, 

stopping the din that kills another child in Gaza 

and the blood that’s spilling from the world’s hand and mouth.

 

“Life,” by Saleem Al-Naffar, via Literary Hub’s “These are the poets and writers who have been killed in Gaza”

Knives might eat
what remains of my ribs,
machines might smash
what remains of stones,
but life is coming,
for that is its way,
creating life even for us.

[Note: Al-Naffar and his family were martyred on Dec 7, 2023.]

 

“That Nation Talk,” by Rasha Abdulhadi, via West Branch

Talk talk abolition, talk transformation 

talk justice talk justice talk just us 

making for each other cause no one else is coming

 

“they stop torching our cities long enough to pray,” by Mandy Shunnarah, via Protean Magazine

On what day of creation was god the architect of hell? 

In which beginning was it decided each creation myth 

must accompany destruction? There’s a reason 

torcher sounds like torturer.

 

“IN THE YEAR 2148, OUR ONLY NAKBA,” by Fargo Tbakhi, via Hobart Pulp

is the egg yolk, broken when it was meant to be fried, 

the sobbing of a child who’s just found 

that their favorite character does not survive, 

 

the scraped knee, the store out of cigarettes (already?) 

the unreturned love, a freezing morning 

with the jacket left at home, time and the wicked 

 

things it does to the flesh

 

“Our Loneliness,” by Hiba Abu Nada, translated from Arabic by Salma Harland, via Arab Lit

How alone it was,

our loneliness, 

when they won their wars. 

 

Only you were left behind, 

naked, 

before this loneliness.

 

[Note: Hiba Abu Nada was martyred by an Israeli airstrike on October 20.]

 

“Border Wisdom,” by Ahmad Almallah, via The Markaz Review

I won’t describe the past for you, 

I tell you I got held 

at borders, I tell you I am 

used to it, and what?

 

“Ode to Mennel Ibtissam singing ‘Hallelujah’ on The Voice (France), translated in Arabic,” by George Abraham, via Split This Rock

with thanks to Marwa Helal* 

 

maybe  if , ash &    smolder way the  –   tongue     own my in     never but song      this heard i’ve

there’s  –  it birthed who     fire the not &       gospel  become can , mouth     right the in       seen 

a  , arabic your of fall       minor the  – flame       still is , core its at       which , prayer bluest your 

god  finds , tremor  oud shrieks   country a    , somewhere  –  before    us failed    has which flag

 

 

*Rules of engagement: if the poem is to be read from right to left, it is to be observed unredacted. If the poem is to be read from left to right, the reader must impose redactions of the English language. If the poem is to be read down its right and/or left margins, it is to be sung in Mennel’s voice.

 

“It No Longer Matters If Anyone Loves Us,” by Samer Abu Hawwash, translated by Huda Fakhreddine, via Arab Lit

We are tired of ourselves in this endless night, 

and tired of our mothers clinging to what’s left of us,

 tired of this rock we carry on our backs, 

this eternal curse. 

 

From abyss to abyss, we carry it,

from death to death, 

and we never arrive.

 

“OBIT,” by Mosab Abu Toha, via The New Yorker

To the shadow I had left alone before I

crossed the border, my shadow that stayed

lonely and hid in the dark of the night,

freezing where it was, never needing a visa.

To my shadow that’s been waiting for my return,

homeless except when I was walking by its side

in the summer light.

 

“Love Poem,” by Summer Awad, via Adi Magazine

I want my fatherland 

To lay his overgrown beard in the crook of my neck, want him 

To squeeze me when he cries out from the nightmares, from the film reel 

Of bombs, the frames etched in our collective subconscious because he has decided

We must not look away.

 


 

For further reading, we recommend:

 

 

Let us be steadfast demanding our government actually enforces an arms embargo on Israel and removes the discriminatory 1000-applicant cap on Palestinians in Gaza applying for refuge, call for an end to the occupation, and learn about actions to take in solidarity with Palestine

 

Header image: “Free Palestine,” by Gerard Dalbon, via Artists Against Apartheid

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