On The Fifth Day Of A Hunger Strike

Graphic designers have made avatars in support of the hunger strikers.

This morning, I have been looking for and listening to “political” poetry. Unless I am mistaken*, although there is the puppet-show advertisement for Aboul Fotouh, there otherwise seems to be a relative absence of literary and visual art associated with the Egyptian presidential campaign. (Thank goodness, really.)

But across the border, poetry and theater have accompanied and commented on Palestinian detentions and hunger strikers. There have also been artistic expressions re-seen, like this one “in honor of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.”

I am interested in any sort of literary culture — “hasty” or otherwise — that encourages me to re-see the world. Rafeef Ziadah’s hunger-strike poem, although it has an interesting line, “Our Spring in Palestine is born shackled to a hospital bed,” doesn’t do that. I looked around for other hunger-strike poetry: There was a “Hunger Strike Poem” in the Poems from Guantanamo collection, but although the moment is awful, the poem is not elevated beyond it.

I did find myself drawn to Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet’s hunger-strike poem. Hikmet began his hunger strike in May 1950.

On The Fifth Day Of A Hunger Strike

My brothers,
Forgive me if I’m unable to say
honestly and straightforwardly
all that I would like to say to you
I’m drunk, my head is light, it spins,
not from raki
but from hunger.
My brothers,
I’m European, I’m Asian, I’m American,
In this month of May
I’m not in jail or on a hunger strike,
But lying at night in a meadow
With your eyes as near to mine as the stars
And your hands in mine as a single hand
like the hand of my mother
like the hand of my helpmate
like the hand of life.
My brothers,
You, at least, have never abandoned me,
Not me or my country or my people.
I know that you love me and love what’s ours
As I love you and love what’s yours.
And for this
I thank you, my brothers,
I thank you.
My brothers,
I have no intention of dying.
And if I am killed
I know
I’ll go on living
in your thoughts.
I’ll live in the lines of Aragon-
in every line that describes
the coming of beautiful days-
And in the pigeons of Picasso,
And in the folksongs of Robson…
And more beautiful than anything else
more triumphant than anything else
I’ll live in the jubilant laughter
of a comrade on strike day
in the port of Marseilles.
My brothers,
Since you really wish me to talk again,
I’m so happy, so happy,
that I spurt the words out!


Also, Palestinian poet Sharif Elmusa has written a new poem, “Survivor.” It begins:

When I entered the cell

I looked at the ceiling

it was moving

coming down

harassing me

I smoked a cigarette

I touched my nose

with a fresh one

as if to remind myself why I smoked

I kept shifting the end in my mouth

like someone sifting through his vague thoughts

some days I inhaled four packs

and expelled a dozen demons

Keep reading.

You can read in-the-moment memoir about the Palestinian hunger strikes over at Electronic Intifada’s “Hunger strike diaries.”

*Please do feel free to correct me. 

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