art of resistance, Syria

Jehan Bseiso | Requiem For Raqqa.

raqqa_bread/Scenes from Syrian War: Raqqa, by Molly Crabapple/

Requiem For Raqqa

4th of July fireworks descend hot as acid,
call it chemical, not white phosphorus,
call it mistake, not massacre.

A doctor in East Ghouta tells me one grave holds his entire family.
(you left me)

A pharmacist sends me a voice note saying there is no more Insulin.
(you left me)

A politician in the US doesn’t know what Aleppo is.
(how could you leave me?)

In occupied Jerusalem, a young man says:
“Syria is the Nakba of our generation.”

(you broke my heart)

Hide in a cafe in Marseilles, order Turkish coffee with lots of sugar.
Go to the library in Alexandria, order lots of books about politics.
Stop reading.

Don’t watch Al Jazeera.
Don’t listen to the BBC.
Make up your own mind, says Beirut graffiti.
(but, you left me, you really left me)

It’s been six years since I slept, Syria.

This poem was first published on Mada Masr.

art of resistance, Syria

After | Aleppo.

aleppo/Aleppo, illustration by the Lebanese artist Jana Traboulsi/

After Aleppo by Jehan Bseiso

I learned to read early.

But the truth is, sometimes I wish the letters remained funny drawings for longer, before the uninvited tyranny of words, and

before other tongues found home in my big mouth.

I don’t mean it literally.

One day, we will go back to Aleppo you said.

You don’t mean it literally.

Habeebi four years ago we shouted for change, and now we are citizens of border towns.

We go from Turkey, to Lebanon, to Egypt, but we don’t find Aleppo.

We have food vouchers, and, assistance criteria, and, intermittent empathy.

I don’t write any more poetry.

The boat is sinking,


but I don’t want to leave this room.

It smells like jasmine and you taste like freedom.

This poem was published in January last year, on Mada Masr.

art of resistance

Abd El-Hadi Fights A Superpower.


/Drawing by a Syrian refugee, via PBS/

I love to think of poetry (and writing in general) as a journey to the deepest of depths, as a way of exposing open wounds, as a way of healing – in the end. While Europe ‘battles’ with refugees, poems and poets, novels and writers, keep on coming to my mind.

I think of Taha Muhammad Ali’s simple man, Abd El-Hadi, who fights a superpower. I think of Nadezhda Mandelstam and the way she survived through the worst of times so that she could talk about the worst of times, the way she lost everybody and lived to keep them alive – to save Osip’s poetry, to make sure nobody forgets the way he and thousands of others died. So here it is – pain, wars, exile – a small refugee blues, in a way…

“And after his death – or even before it, perhaps – he lived on in camp legend as a demented old man of seventy who had once written poetry in the outside world and was therefore nicknamed The Poet. And another old man – or was it the same one? – lived in the transit camp of Vtoraya Rechka, waiting to be shipped to Kolyma, and was thought by many people to be Osip Mandelstam – which, for all I know, he may have been. That is all I have been able to find out about the last days, illness and death of Mandelstam. Others know very much less about the death of their dear ones.”

Hope Against Hope, Nadezhda Mandelstam

“Look at them leaving in droves despite knowing they will be welcomed with restraint in those strange lands because they do not belong, knowing they will have to sit on one buttock because they must not sit comfortable lest they be asked to rise and leave, knowing they will speak in dampened whispers because they must not let their voices drown those of the owners of the land, knowing they will have to walk on their toes because they must not leave footprints on the new earth lest they be mistaken for those who want to claim the land as theirs. Look at them leaving in droves, arm in arm with loss and lost, look at them leaving in droves.”

We need new names, NoViolet Bulawayo

“I said, what is a homeland? I was asking myself that question a moment ago. Naturally. What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall? I’m only asking… Once again, Safiyya began to weep. She dried her tears with a small white handkerchief. Looking at her, Said thought: How this woman has aged. She squandered her youth waiting for this moment, not knowing what a terrible moment it would be.”

Returning to Haifa, Ghassan Kanafani

In his life

he neither wrote nor read.

In his life he

didn’t cut down a single tree,

didn’t slit the throat

of a single calf.

In his life he did not speak

of the New York Times

behind its back,

didn’t raise

his voice to a soul

except in his saying:

“Come in, please,

by God, you can’t refuse.”



his case is hopeless,

his situation


His God-given rights are a grain of salt

tossed into the sea.


Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:

about his enemies

my client knows not a thing.

And I can assure you,

were he to encounter

the entire crew

of the aircraft carrier Enterprise,

he’d serve them eggs

sunny-side up,

and labneh

fresh from the bag.

Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower, Taha Muhammad Ali


no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well


your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.


no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten


no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough


go home blacks


dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange


messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off


or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans



be hunger


forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear



run away from me now

i dont know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here

Home, Warsan Shire

To the families and lovers at the bottom of the sea, trying to reach Europe.


How do we overcome war and poverty only to drown in your sea?


Misrata, Libya
Habeebi just take the boat.
In front of you : Bahr.
Behind you : Harb.
And the border, closed.
Your Sea, Mare,Bahr. Our war, our Harb.


Augusta, Italy
Where is the interpreter?
This is my family.
Baba, mama, baby all washed up on the shore. This is 28 shoeless survivors and thousands of bodies.
Bodies Syrian, Bodies Somali, Bodies Afghan, Bodies Ethiopian, Bodies Eritrean.
Bodies Palestinian.
Your Sea, Mare,Bahr. Our war, our Harb.


Alexandria, Egypt
Habeebi, just take the boat.
Behind you Aleppo and Asmara, barrel bombs and Kalashnikovs.
In front of you a little bit of hope.
Your Sea, Mare, Bahr. Our war, our Harb.


Maps on our backs.
Long way from home.

No search, No rescue, Jehan Bseiso

The Day I die

My killer will find

Tickets in my pocket:

One to peace,

One to the fields and the rain,

And one to humanity’s conscience.

I beg you – please don’t waste them

I beg you, you who killed me: go.

Travel Tickets, Samih Al-Qasim

art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Jordan, Palestine

(Interview) Jehan Bseiso and The long way home.

Jehan Bseiso is a Palestinian poet (also a researcher and aid-worker) who grew up in Jordan.  She’s 31 and in her life so far she managed to collect passport stamps from all over the globe. Since the first time I read her work, it felt like I know her, although we never met.

I loved her poems and the way they float in the air when I read them (they find a way to melt with the space – in and outside me). Even when she is dealing with a specific topic, a certain “syrian thing”, or “palestinian thing”, she makes it an universal thing, a matter of truth, justice, love, compassion, bringing us to the fact – that fact that it all is an universal thing. And we all should be aware, and we should care.

271087_727033268612_81494163_nJehan Bseiso

Jehan currently lives in Cairo, and often writes for The Palestine Chronicle. Couple of weeks ago, I read her letter to Ghassan Kanafani on the 66th anniversary of Nakba, and it served as a trigger to finally ask her for an interview.

In the letter, she writes:

Dear Ghassan,

On our birthday this year I turned 31 and you turned 78. Even the dead grow old without a homeland.

Do you know that we live and die in diaspora now?  Do you know that Palestinian refugee camps are swollen with Iraqis and Syrians now?

Too many Jihadi songs end with the refrain “For Falasteen”, but Baba says terrorists can’t read maps.

The march to Jerusalem doesn’t start from Kunduz. And I definitely cannot see Haifa from Cairoya “Ansar Beit el Maqdis”.

Last week in Beirut I went to the races for the first time and bet 5$ on a horse named Thawra.

She lost.

But I met a little boy who said he was from Sabra.

In Jordan, Syrian children say they come from Zaatari and Azraq not anymore Homs or Hama.

Little boys shouldn’t come from refugee camps.

I contacted her, she answered my e-mail. We started talking. She said she likes my e-mail signature song – Tom Waits – The long way home.

Got a head full of lightning
A hat full of rain
And I know that I said
I’d never do it again
And I love you pretty baby but I always take the long way home

I thought to myself later – of course she likes it. If somebody knows how it is to take the long way home – it’s Jehan Bseiso, a Palestinian who visited Palestine for the first time when she was 29. But it’s not just that – it’s this whole life, life of wandering and wondering. It’s this ability to enjoy things, to experience, to see where the unkown will take us, to see how the moon shines under the ground…

Jehan was kind enough to engage in a lovely thoughts exchange with me, so let’s get to that.

Tell me something about Jehan Bseiso, something that defines you, something you can’t live without.

I’m so much happier near water. It takes whatever I’m carrying away from me, and I like that it’s as simple as float or sink. I’m convinced that memories are buoyant, and there is no place I would rather re-member, re-put things back together than by the sea.

 You’ve traveled the globe, lived all over the Middle East, Europe and USA. Where is home for you? Or what is home for you?

I think I have both a mobile and fixed sense of home. There are faces and smells that can take me home in one minute no matter where I am- Kabul or Cairo. Even if I am still moving around a lot, lately I also want to have a place all mine. Somewhere I can leave my books and shoes and hang things up on walls and try not to kill plants. Beyond the material trappings, home is my people, friends and family and they’re everywhere. There’s a line from one of my favorite poems by Stanley Kunitz, The Layers, where he says “I have made a tribe of my affections, and my tribe is scattered”.

Tata, my grandmother, would only tell the story in staccato:

“1948. Falasteen. Orange blossom fields. Salt. Blue Gaza waters. “

Tears in her long black lashes,

“And when my father died, his horse wept in the funeral”. 

Bseiso, Tata’s Lovesong

Tell me something about your Poeticians experience. How was performing your poetry?  

I walked into a dimly lit café in Beirut, and I saw Hind Shoufani reading on stage. She was wearing something that was probably shiny, but I could only focus on the way her words jumped from the page to the stage. Those countless spoken word evenings around Beirut,and the people I met through Poeticians, changed the way I read and write.

The cemeteries are full –
In Lebanon, Jordan, Syria
We will soon bury Palestinians above ground.
Nowhere to live and now,
No quiet place to die, with dignity.
Raise high the beams – carpenters, death architects.
Soon, your walls will reach the sky.

Bseiso, Cemeteries in Palestinian camps short on space

You are currently working on a collection of poems “Conversations Continued”. What phase are you in at the moment? And can you describe the collection, its essence?

I think of “ Conversations Continued” as a collection of real, misremembered and misheard conversations. It’s divided into different topics like “Conversations Habeebi” which tries to talk about love and “Conversations Thawra” which looks at the Arab uprisings. Whether the topic is conceptual like love or happiness, or touching on a complex political reality like the situation in Syria, the pieces slip in and out of different moods and topics much like a conversation in real life.

For Abu Ali Mahdi, who
After 20 years in Israeli prisons
Died of heartbreak in his own bed,
In Beirut.
For Du’aa, and Ala’a and Mohammed,
Who spoke to the Al Jazeera reporters about
Mama dead and baba dead and no home
And no bread. Nobody to break the bread with.
And nights so long you forget there ever was light
Or day.
For all of you, who make me proud to be from
this land, and to have these words,
In this language,
Lodged in my throat like bricks.
For everyone who has ever said enough.

Bseiso, from Conversations Homeland

How do you see Palestine today, compared with the Palestine of your childhood? And how about the “outsiders” perception of Palestine, from your experience?

The Palestine of my childhood is more a mental and emotional landscape than a physical place. Mama was born on the beach in Gaza and I was born in a hospital room in Los Angeles. Eventually, work took me to places as far as Afghanistan and Somali region, and I couldn’t explain to myself anymore why a place less than an hour from the capital of Jordan, where I was raised, felt so far away. So, I visited Palestine for the first time in 2012 and it was truly indescribable though I keep trying to find the words by writing about it.

Is there a (palestinian) poet/writer you feel inspired by particularly? You’ve written a letter to ‘Ghassan Kanafani, but is there another person you would dedicate your words to and why?

Mu’een Bseiso was a poet and friend of Mahmoud Darwish, he published throughout the sixties and seventies , wrote a lot about Palestine and died quietly in a hotel room in London a year after I was born. I never met him, but I often wish I had. Suheir Hammad is incredible. A few years ago, I had the pleasure to open for her when she read in Jordan and I spent a couple of days with her that continue to inspire me.

Dear Ghassan,

I feel the same way about the Nakba. Everyday Nakba.  Each year marks death, dispossession and occupation but also birth, and the celebration of memory and resistance.




For more of Jehan and her work – read The Palestine Chronicle, follow her @jehanbseiso or contact her at: