Poem: Sleeping in Gaza by Najwan Darwish

Having had some time and space to come down from the awfulness of the past few days, I figured I’d put up my belated Thursday poems. This week’s choices are two poems by Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish. The foremost of these is Sleeping in Gaza, as translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid.

It begins:

Fado, I’ll sleep like people do
when shells are falling
and the sky is torn like living flesh
I’ll dream, then, like people do
when shells are falling:
I’ll dream of betrayals

This is a poem of surprising grace and weight, given its brevity. It wastes no time in its autopsy of a city, a time, a people. And still somehow has the space to ask powerful questions with enviable ease: How should you deal with tragedy, how should you handle manifold sins?

there are two types of people:
those who cast their suffering and sins
into the streets so they can sleep
and those who collect the people’s suffering and sins
mold them into crosses, and parade them
through the streets of Babylon and Gaza and Beirut

Here, you might think he is pointing the finger, judging too harshly, but in the very next stanza, he turns it back on himself.

Two years ago I walked through the streets
of Dahieh, in southern Beirut
and dragged a cross
as large as the wrecked buildings

His imagery is simple, yet devastating; born and raised in Jerusalem, he has the iconography of three religions, the history of so many crusades, and oceans of blood and bodies to parse through his poetry. In the hands of a lesser writer, a lesser poet, it would be too much, it would overwhelm his material, but Darwish manages to go one step further and inject his own personal experiences into the landscape. In doing so, he is able to cut through the ballast, to set his poem free and high as a kite skipping on the wind.

All in all, the poem is 31 lines long. It’s brutal, and it still hits me now reading it for the umpteenth time, but beyond the emotional impact, what lingers for me is a true admiration for the skill involved in crafting this piece. You can, and most definitely should, read the whole poem here. The ending detonates in your chest, as all great poems should.

His other poem, ‘Mary’, is simple, beautiful and poignant. I don’t want to take anything away from it – like Sleeping in Gaza, it is also short, but in my opinion, needs to be read from start to finish to be appreciated in full. You can do that by going here.

Hopefully, you’ll find these poems as exceptional as I do, and if you don’t, do feel free to post dissenting opinions! I am not simply sharing my admiration of the various poems I find myself falling into, but also, I hope, starting a conversation. It need not be here, of course – it may only carry on in your head or your heart – wherever it is, so long as the thread of thought is continued, this will not have been in vain.

 

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