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November 2016

An aerial view of Tariq al-Bab, Aleppo, destroyed by regime and Russian forces. Assad has spoken of “cleaning” the city (©Jawad al Rifai/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

1. Vigil

The baby wakes.
The baby wakes in the hour of the morning
When the air is cool as silk
And the pale bird of the night gives way
To the crimson bird of the day.
The baby wakes, his fingers at my milk.

I feel the feeling of his fingers,
The tremor at the end of his hands
When he grasps me at the dawning of the day.
He takes his fill, and sleeps again,
But his mouth lingers, taking its sips,
And the tongue still moves a little against his lips.

This is our land, which we work with our hands.
This is our land, where we have put down a root.
This is our land, and our hands know it
As our hands once knew our mothers.
The land is rich in its honey and milk
And its prodigious memory of fruit.

The land is a gift, a divine covenant,
Twice given, twice blest,
But given in guilt, given in shame,
A hope renewed, day after day
As the baby is made in equal love and pain.
The hands that give can also take away.
The land that is given is also taken away.

2. Terror

Son of my body, you go from me.
Your hand that slipped from my breast,
Your hand that slipped from mine, ready for pleasure,
Your hand that slipped from mine, ready for trouble,
Your hand that worked the land,
Has been put to different work,
The work of joy, and the work of pain,
For the land that is given is given in guilt
And the land is taken that we have built.

When they told me who to hate, I did not believe them.
But if your enemy is destroyed, how can you grieve?
I thought my enemy had a human face.
I could look and see myself in that dark place
Where only hatred breeds in the land
And the hand that is ready for trouble
Does everything that may be done by a hand.

The hand that held the breast will pluck the fruit.
The hand that plucked the fruit will tighten on the gun.
For the fruit of the land is the fruit of exile
And the fruit of guilt is the pulling up of the root
That binds all people to an unforgiving land
And the pulling of the trigger is the fruit of hatred.

The baby wakes.
The baby wakes in the hour of the morning
When the air is full of heat and dust
And the peace of the night gives way
To the crimson beast of the day.
The apartments are sliced open like a dolls’ house,
The families in dust, as stiff as dolls,
Children in rubble, unusually still.
In the hospitals, the surgeons in despair,
The beds themselves under rubble,
A thigh stump like a burst pomegranate.

The baby wakes in his mother’s blood,
Reaching into indistinguishable space
Where the dying are darkened and whimpering
Like dogs who have been shut out of their lives.

3. Lament

This is our country.
This is our covenant.
This is our citadel.
This is our pride.
This is our government.
This is our shame,
When death is the work of hands:
This one a murderer.
This one a hero.
This is the enemy I have defiled.
This is an act in defence of our land.
This is an act committed by a child.

This is a human face
That could be the face of anyone
Staring from a mirror
When guilt is discovered
Like the signs of an illness,
Like an unforeseeable error,
Something that was once begun
In all good will, and must be endured.
This is what our children have done.
This is the quietness before the terror.
This is the explosion before the stillness.
This is the warning, and the gun.

.     .     .

We lobbed into the citadel
Gifts that unwrapped themselves in smoke,
With bursts of fire like whirling threads.

Our mortars lifted sounds from hell
To deafen the whole air and spell
In dust the sentences they spoke.

And all day long the houses broke.
The daughters bled into their beds.
Night was on fire, and when we woke

Death was all round us with its smell,
The fathers silent where they fell,
The mothers wailing from their heads.

And every pain was ours as well,
Our children’s pain. How can it be
That a child is someone’s enemy?

Were we outside the citadel?
Were we inside the citadel?
It seemed the same. No one could tell.

4. Prayer

This is my child, who will never wake,
Patrolling the streets with a ready gun,
Waiting with explosives in a tunnel,
Doing what is done with human hands,
The fruit spilling from the market carts.

Now he is asleep in the hour of the morning
When the air has the bitter smell of death
And the pale bird of the night gives way
To the black bird of the day,
To the heaviness of limbs and the stifling of breath.

Now he is dead, and heavy in my arms.
I feel the weight of him in my arms,
And not a breath escapes his lips.
Where can we go? What can we do?
The walls are burning, and the locked ships.

There is no end to a siege when both sides are besieged.
There is no end to the suffering of each.
There is no end to this, no end
Until the enemy becomes a friend,
And the fruit again grows freely in the field.

So here I pray for the need to be revealed,
And the will to answer to the need,
When the voice of mothers will be believed
When the night will in the end give way
To the perfect reason of the day.

Allâhumma allif bayna qulûbinâwa aslih dhâta
baynina wahdinâ subûl as-salam.

Oseh shalom bim’romav
Hu ya’aseh shalom aleynu
V ’al kol Yisrael
V ’imru Amen.

1. O Allah, unite our hearts, and set aright our mutual affairs, guide us in the path of peace.

2. He who makes peace in high places, He will make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say Amen.
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