‘Thank You, Bullet That Claimed Father’s Life…’

Translator Fawaz Azem brings us another poem from young Syrian-Palestinian poet Dima Yousf. 

Azem notes that the Yarmouk Camp referred to in the poem is a Palestinian community established outside Damascus in 1957. It has been largely cut off from the outside world since last July. As Amnesty International reports, the camp has been under a brutal siege by Syrian government forces.

Yousf, born in 1986, graduated from Damascus University with a degree in Arabic literature and a teaching diploma. She teaches Arabic in Damascus schools, and is pursuing a graduate degree “but with a stay of execution.”  A recent post on her Facebook page reads “I have so many stories to tell, if I survive.”

The poem is untitled:

Dima Yousf
Dima Yousf

By Dima Yousf

translated Fawaz Azem

With their black banners, they blindfolded us, having extinguished the last glimmer of hope through which we could see the camp.

We had packed our dreams before packing our bags.

Mother had made your favorite jam, and set aside the last remaining olive jar in the pantry, to be opened only in celebration of your presence. She is still postponing all your favorite dishes to a table which doesn’t miss your plate, and, whenever she invites us to eat, she, thinking of your hunger, still says, “Come, let’s swallow this swill.”

A few days ago, she said, stroking the wound of your absence, “Let’s assume he is travelling.” How angelic mothers are! They even mother their wounds.

The distance separating us from you can be measured in feet. Mother has decided to consider the hour’s walk to you a journey, just to stanch her bleeding, stabbed by one vile checkpoint, preventing her from hugging you. A single checkpoint that would’ve become, had God granted my mother’s prayers, a phone booth, a cigarette stand, or a lingerie bin.

This winter has been very hard without you. My woolen scarves, which you no longer share with me, remain cold, without warmth, an orgy of color devoid of meaning that I wrap around my neck and that only serves to stifle my breaths. I remember our quarrels over one of them that I saw on the shoulder of one of your friends. How could I have known that those young ones would soon grow up into impossibly tall men with just dreams and short, brittle lives? Your friends, with whom I’m proud now to have shared colored woolen yarns one winter; those woolen scarves which one day touched the heart of a would-be martyr or a would-be detainee, among them are my most treasured possessions.

We had packed our dreams before packing our bags.

Our steps beat us to a ruin on whose sides grass had grown, when it found out that we were coming back. Our kisses beat us to those eyes that emerged from the night in their broad daylight, and from death, pregnant with life. Our songs, our poems and our vows of love beat us.

My hands beat me to your precious face, and my head to your shoulder.

My tears beat me to a body that had blended with the soil of the Camp. There, in the Martyrs’ Cemetery, on the left, the third grave beyond the tree burdened with ancient sorrows, my tears take refuge between my ribs.

To you, my father! My martyr!

A proud, brave man, who would have surely been destroyed by his indignation at seeing hunger rampaging on the bodies of the young, unstoppable!

Thank you, bullet that claimed father’s life before it was claimed by indignation!

Thank you, sniper, who performed his ablution with his blood!

Thank you father’s blood, which brought closure to the scene!

To the Yarmouk, my hands, my head, and my tears beat me, and I couldn’t catch up with them.

Now, I’m without hands, without a head and without tears,

facing all this cruelty, helpless, without hope, alone.

Another untitled poem from Yousf.