A Poem for Syria: Beyond A Geography of Violence (TED)


I close my eyes and try to visualize every detail 
the last time I saw you

It was 7 years ago today

We celebrated with family

Never appreciated you when I had you

Oh summer romance shaded by jasmine shrubs

I plead with heaven to re-unite us

So I can be cleansed in your waters

Mediterranean blue

Brushed with eastern winds


I close my eyes to remember

You wore conquest & triumph on your face

Lines 16,000 years deep

Were robed in layers of empire

Chest puffed in a warrior’s armor

I knew you from stories

Stories longer than a bedouin’s night


But then you stretched out your hand

Offering me mint tea, hand-picked cherries + green pistachios

From your garden


From qasida to qabbani

Your poetry of the ancients charmed me

Maqam bayati emanating from oud strings

A sweetness as smooth as olive oil

And as captive as honey


I close my eyes

And watch you moving from ruku to sujud

To the rhythm of church bells

You practiced every faith

You marveled at the devotion of each one

Sealing seder songs with suras

Burying Christian honorifics in an artery wrapped around minarets


I close my eyes & remember

Personality cult posters streaming down buildings

Reconfigured language

Subversive jokes

Rearview mirror amulets

Remember, that if it didn’t please you

You silenced dissent

Ignored & exacerbated debilitating poverty

A poverty so humiliating

That many followed a death march towards intangible dignity


So crooked & meanderings is this story of our love affair

I beg for a vision of the straight path


Sometimes I’m saddled with indignation

Why won’t you let my heart break in peace

To the dawn calm of silence


Offer me a morning without rockets, shelling or torture

An afternoon free of hunger, homelessness or longing

Save me an evening of suffocating uncertainty, chemical attacks or propaganda


Some days I wake

And I see your tears in my father’s eyes

Your hurt in the cold shoulder and weighted heart of my mother


What part of my world I trade to see you again?

But I? I’m generations displaced
Arabic sterilized of its poetry
forever wandering for home


Tormented incessantly as if inherited

Bandages, exposed flesh, 
you are a silent film rehearsed nightly on evening news

Little did they know that your mother died a time too long ago

The scent of musk rose from a buried corpse under rubble

Always rubble

Stone, rubble,

Stone, rubble


my dear Syria you are every filter I use to see the world

temples, gardens, courtyards

biblical lands in a prison state

you are more than a geography of violence


How I yearn for its people to have a voice loud & searing enough to quiet white noise

That distorts stories old and human


I stare at your face

A mirror

Though my father left in 1968

I too am a refugee camp,

A carcass in an open graveyard

A wish at the bottom of the sea

And then


I close my eyes &

I beg your understanding

Belonging to everywhere 
Neglected by everyone

She birthed myths, legends, mid-wifed pagan gods, jewish prophets, chirstian saints, Islamic knowledge,

My grandparents

And a time ago,

perhaps too far for our collective memory

she buried their remains with dignity




Kingdoms come down

A mother rising from fatherlands

Do we have a place in our hearts to love the battered mother who

Reared prophets,

Carried temples on her spine,

And spread legs wide to labor Fertile Crescent


She who knocks down would-be kings

From the throne of the suns

With the dust of laurel leaves

She fingerpaints their demise in cuneiform

Milked goats to feed a rasul’s kin

Placed a Baptist in elizabeth’s womb


She tosses back orange blossom water

Soothing belly inflamed by parasites of war

She rinses tongues in the Euphrates

Purifying the sins of our ancestors


Crooning freedom songs

She stomps on borders and treaties

Inked by madmen


She runs with hawks and wolves across a land between two rivers


Descendant of Cleopatra

Queen of the desert

Maimed lover

She’s been witness too many times to catastrophe before

So she knows

Another sky awaits