The sounds of flute and poem tangle and rip in the composition “Songish,” as performed by Chicago-based flautist Shanna Gutierrez:
Yousf (b. 1986, pictured), graduated from Damascus University with a degree in Arabic literature. She has taught Arabic in Damascus schools, and said in 2014 that she was pursuing a graduate degree “but with a stay of execution.” A post from back then, on her Facebook page, read “I have so many stories to tell, if I survive.”
Among these stories is the movement of her poem, via Azem’s translation, to the work of classical musician in Chicago. As Azem explains in his own Facebook post, flautist Shanna Gutierrez was working on a project with Amsterdam-based musician Wiek Hijmans “that required me to find a text that spoke to me for inclusion in the piece…”
Gutierrez wrote to Yousf, relayed by Azem:
Nothing was working for me, and then I stumbled upon your beautiful poem in a posting at arablit.org from 2014 of an Untitled poem….and it just fit…it is so perfect. I wanted something that would give voice to something we only view from afar here….perhaps it sounds cliche or…I don’t know what…to say that watching what is happening to Syria and the whole region makes my heart beyond words, but it does…and what can I do from where I am except raise my voice against this somehow.
The haunting composition, which includes a flute-reading rendition of Yousf’s poem, spitting words and notes, rips at the heart.
Yousf’s untitled poem, trans. Azem:
Oh, if I only had a knife
like those that are forgotten on necks,
If I only had the fingers of a murderer
and his unblinking eyes.
If I could only utter the cry of his victim
the moment he gathers in the voices
from all four corners of the earth,
I would sharpen my knife with my teeth,
and the teeth of all those who, like me,
are unable to do anything, except bite their lips with regret,
and slaughter this year,
peering on us,
I would chop its body into tender meat,
so that the starving would eat.
Oh, if only the years were edible,
so that the starving would chew them,
and spit the bitter taste in our faces.
Oh, if only The Lord would see
the protruding bones of children,
and would do something,
so that we wouldn’t lose faith.
Oh, if only my heart were a god.
Other poems by Yousf, trans. Azem: