By Ghassan Al-Jibai
Translated by Ghada Alatrash
I am as you’ve always known me
Arms crossed over my chest
Like a stone bridge
Lying on my eternal back
Putting my feet up
Dirt fills my mouth and eyes
And the smile never leaves me.
I do not speak—I do not see your beloved faces—
But I hear you breathing above the soil
And I feel the roots of chrysanthemums
As they suck the dampness around me.
I am as I’ve always been
Waiting for my relatives to declare me
A martyr for freedom.
I am far from you now, eyes cannot see me
Close to you, untouched by fingers
I am farther than the planet of silence
And closer to the sanctuary of soil
You call it a grave
And I call it a flowerpot.
Dawn will not wake me after today
And the evening will no longer blame me
I’ve left in your hands
All the affection and nobility between us:
I left my small dreams in your care
I left my share of the blue skies and light
All that I possess of the remaining years of my life
I gave to you.
I left my warm finger in yours
So that I may live in you
As that is what I’d lived for.
I left everything that I inherited from humanity over the centuries
Love, knowledge, beauty, art, and freedom.
I left the rain glistening like teardrops on the green grass
I left the sun’s rays shining there, behind the mountain,
And the blossoming trees as they bloom and flower in the gardens
I forgot about the ugliness and meanness of humans
I forgot about betrayal, injustice, villainy, and lies.
I carried with me the best memories of you
And I forgave you.
Now, I am living another life
I live among the hatching chicks
And in the seeds of wheat and basil
In the jasmine as it climbs the mud houses
And knocks on the old wooden windows, calling out:
I am the smile of sadness
Gift of the poor, the deprived, and the homeless
God sent me specifically to smile at you
To guard your dreams on your balconies.
And I sleep in the flowerpot
You call it a grave
And I call it a vase.
Also read the poem in the original Arabic.
Ghassan al-Jibai (1952-2022) was an acclaimed poet and dramatist whose works included The General’s Coffee and Banana Fingers. After studying theater in Ukraine, al-Jibai returned to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a decade. Once released, he taught theater in Damascus, yet was banned off and on from teaching at the university, including after expressing support for protesters in 2011. His writing often returned to the subject of Syria’s notorious prisons. He appears in Hala Mohammad’s 2006 documentary Journey into Memory.
Ghada Alatrash, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the School of Critical and Creative Studies at Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary, Canada. She holds a PhD in Educational Research: Languages and Diversity from the Werklund School of Education, the University of Calgary, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Oklahoma. Her current research speaks to Syrian art and creative expression as resistance to oppression and dictatorship.