Mute for minutes—keeffak—ana bikhayr—note guttural Rs—gobbets on Hikmet—genius or personality—the butterfly insignias of Darwish—not a Burden—non-verbal—bricabrac Arabic—can be a blessing—sometimes—scan the table for unpayable translators—sh’kran habibi—cannot learn a language just by hearing it—Spanish maybe—sh’kran—wide glossy smile—all I can say—sh’kran habibi—drinking mate through a scolding straw—gets rid of Arak—gets in teeth—tamam—medicine and breakfast—need water—you stir it like this—clockwise is anticlockwise—like the alphabet—see—sh’kran—what better life than the life in this valley—whiff of Mediterranean over the olive grove—where are you from Hamad—hypnotism in gasblue eyes—what he said makes perfect sense but cannot be translated into English—time suspended by a conjurer’s trick—literally then—the children of my first painting never forget to smile—my teeth are cleaner here—my teeth rot every day in Lebanon—skin like the valley’s rockface—remember where you stand—the men of three villages built this festival—stone by stone—some died carrying the rocks—could be the seventh century—over one thousand will fill this valley tomorrow night—half or more from three villages—there—there—there—we’ve moved on but the point is still to be made—nothing rots on its own says Hamad—poor translation—do you like Tartous—can attract waitresses but not yet order any food—what about Damascus—walked up Qasioun in strawburning heat—didn’t Cain slay Abel up there—holiest balcony I ever stood from—Telemnin on one side—the Old City islanded in the distance—gold and whitelight—pleated gold—can’t tell you that now can I—what about the barbwire road with the green tower roadblocked by soldiers—off the map—don’t wait to eat—eat—sh’kran—pita is the life of the table—I offer the basket to a gaptoothed boy—calls me Sahibi—a face of one pure note—wears half the paint lost from the canvas—twill of reds pinks oranges grays—entitled: An Olive Tree Lit by Thorns—sh’kran—tamampreface/footnote/trio—everything said in a museum of accents—haven’t read Mafouz—haven’t listened to Fairuz driving through the dark valley at night—outsider—out-majoritied—but we are  all family here—all same—octopi of embraces—cigarette—sh’kran—Amira hides spirit tears—divorce pending—man has to give consent—three years—three years—you would do fine if you didn’t have a girlfriend—red appled cheeks—Firas circles the room with a mothy dance—at the far end someone is singing—clefts of banned Syrian folk—Sammi’s mother transforms into a veritable Venus when she sings—how to pronouce that—Yaall daar—spits like a soothsayer over her tahini bowl—her name means longest night of the year—you see how it is— sh’kran—President Assad like a king with a million eyes—a million ears—translation: please habibi—not the poem about Iraq

James Byrne

August 11, 2009

Note: This is a poem written at the Al-Sendian festival in 2009. After sixteen years as one of the most important arts festivals in the Arab world it has now been closed by the Assad ‘government’ and many of the participants of the festival have either gone into hiding or exile. This poem is for those I met in 2009, who are now trying to survive the brutal Syrian regime. JB









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