Do Not Rush

It’s been a long year, friends, and too much has happened. If I can, I’ll come back soon and write about what’s been going on in my life. For now, I just want to talk about my poem ‘Do Not Rush‘, recently published in the new issue of The Scores journal, because it means so much to me, not just in what it says, but also in how it came to be written. I wrote this poem almost two years ago now, at the beginning of 2017. I was living as a freelance artist, and struggling, which I mentioned on social media. Lexi Alexander, a Palestinian film director, reached out to offer me some help. I couldn’t accept it, I was too proud, and she knew that, so she said, ‘what if I commission a poem from you instead?’

I accepted, gratefully, and she followed this by saying I shouldn’t stress about getting the poem to her any time soon: “Do not rush.” I kept folding those words over in my mind. There was such a luxury, a grace, in them. My instinct, then, was to ask: who needs this grace the most? As a young Arab in the West, I am familiar with both a helplessness and an endless collective grieving, watching on TV and social media people who look like my kin, who share my heritage, dying and suffering simply because of where they live. What we all need, I thought, is time. Time to grieve, to recoup, to dream, to imagine, to love what is ours.

I don’t know if I could have gotten to the notion of thankfulness without Lexi. She is a fierce advocate for equality, a brilliant woman, and most importantly: kind. I want to emphasise this here, because what she illustrated to me then is that we are not alone, even now, even locked into online algorithms, even separated by oceans from countries we should be knowing and loving up close—we are not alone, we can be kind, we can be a community to each other in grief, and despite grief. I count myself lucky every day that I get to know her, to have met her, and to have written this poem on account of her generosity. I could wish that it was lighter, and happier… but I can only play with the cards I have been dealt, subhanallah.

 

Do Not Rush

to make a judgment.
You can savage a body at speed.
A city can be ruined in an hour.
A love of decades dashed in a second.
It takes nine months to start a life.
It should take as long to end one.
After a trigger is pulled and before
a bullet lands, give nine months
to the target to welcome the hole,
to accept the blood, the blunt lead,
the new body. I know it is possible
to allow a death to gestate. Watch
time mushroom out from a bomber
and seasons unfurl on the city below.
Spring in Baghdad to winter in Aleppo,
one final semester of learning, a retreat
by a river, time enough to be thankful
for old books and DVDs borrowed,
to study the bullet or the blast with
a lover’s eye. It seems a short goodbye
but last year alone America dropped
26,171* bombs on brown bodies,
on our trees and animals and homes.
That’s 235,539 months or 19,628 years
to process the devastation of one.
Honestly, I am unsure of the maths.
Give or take a week, millenniums
are still owed to the lost. I don’t know
how to calculate for the land or
the numbers for the unlucky survivors,
the dust-strewn rubble-reapers looking
for family in red rocks, for burned
paper that might hold a shred of name,
for safe waters that will not drown
them, for borders that will not cut
their feet or demand they unstitch
history from their backs. Call it
an ugly flag. Plant a new one
in their mouths. This kind of loss
has not been measured, it has no body
count, but we have all the time
in the world to weigh it now.
We have all the time in the world.

 

Note: When I wrote this poem in early 2017, I was referring to statistics from 2016. As I write this in 2018, I can tell you that in 2017 America dropped 40,000 bombs. From 2014–17, a total of 94,000 bombs. In my lifetime alone, the sheer tonnage of destruction and chaos that has been unleashed on majority Muslim or Arab nations has been nothing short of catastrophic, year after year of staggering violence which the population of Western countries seem to accept. Go back further, past my lifetime, my mother’s, and into my grandfather’s and you will still find ample military campaigns and Western-backed violences to highlight the sustained injustice against Arab peoples. You could not do this to those you saw as fully human. Though I had not the heart to seek out the full body count of Iraqis, Afghanis, Syrians, Yemenis, Palestinians – the refugees drowned in wave after generational wave of forced migration, of certain death at home or a bleakening hope abroad– the munitions alone tell a deadly, horrifying story.

P.S The whole issue of The Scores is dedicated to Arab and Arab-heritage poets, so I hope you’ll take the time to read what they’re offering, especially considering it’s rare for us to be put together in this way, to have our poems in direct conversation. Thank you again to poetry editor Zein Sa’Dedin for making this possible.

Salaam,
Omar

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