New Poetry from Ghassan Al-Jibai: ‘You Call It a Grave, I Call It a Flowerpot’

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

O people

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.