Poems by Nasser Rabah
Co-translated by Saleh Razzouk (from the Arabic) and Philip Terman


Originally posted on Facebook, December 1 2023 as “4000”

Fourteen thousand,
Fourteen thousand,
Fourteen thousand.
Not fourteen, not fourteen hundred, fourteen thousand
Fourteen thousand soft hands touching right now the gate of Allah.
A chain of little angels covering the sky of this life.
Life looks old without children,
Fourteen thousand lost kisses staggering in the air,
Fourteen thousand white butterflies without flowers to land on,
Fourteen thousand times the word: “Mama” will not be said.
Fourteen thousand times the word: “Papa” will shatter the heart each morning and evening,
Fourteen thousand colorful shoes tucked under empty beds,
Fourteen thousand school bags guarding the sorrow of homes.
Fourteen thousand morning sandwiches left on tables that no one will reach for,
Fourteen thousand broken bicycles abandoned on the roads,
Fourteen thousand will not enter the school door,
And will not attend graduation ceremonies,
Will not buy Eid clothes,
And will be with no friends.
Nobody could ask about their wishes when they grow up,
Sitting forever next to a river of tears.
Fourteen thousand photos on the walls
In fourteen thousand fathers’ pockets sipping grief.
Starving sparrows on fourteen thousand mothers’ windows pecking the heart’s bread.
Fourteen thousand scents that won’t leave their pillows,
Fourteen thousand books gathering the dust of longing,
Fourteen thousand eternal laughs breaking the glass of time.
They will not grow older, will not depart from the last scene,
Will not flee the rubbles,
Will not find an ambulance,
Will not make it to a hospital,
No mourners escorting them to funerals,
No flowers on their graves.
Only fourteen thousand on the news.


On the Birthday of the War

December 5, 2023


The gifts I didn’t send you on the birthday of the war, the poems waving at me, and I closed my book as if dying of gangrene, the bridges between my mouth and my words chattering about everything, the barricades beside the high fence of my tall life, the walks of my old neighbors before they were scattered with the bombs of absence, my aging dreams as I walked along, leaning on a juvenile crutch towards the sea that doesn’t care, the last pill in the treasure chest of hope, the beads of my never-ending rosary, and I’m delirious: Gaza…Gaza.


Like the drowning ones floating back to the surface, we are back from the war, our pockets full of memories of the bottom—sand and salt, our foreheads bandaged with tears, without eyes we read old signs about what happened, we return to the surface, the dead returning back to life.


Did my heart come to you in its nightly nakedness as a horse that did not encounter the mercy of bullets, nor encountered the kiss of life at the end of the war? Did it arrive not looking like me? The honey of flutes flows from his mouth, just as clouds do not resemble rain, and music does not resemble the strumming of strings. Did it come to you, peeling the singer’s sadness from the story’s moon, and squeezing the river’s braids from the late night of waiting? A horse carries its dead knight and walks. It is my heart that knocks on the door of your absence, naked as half an apple, and empty as a faded day after a long war.


How many ships can sink in your silence when you see me returning from a funeral? How many mountains can I climb on your shoulders smiling, mother, so that I do not see the abyss? I return, drenched in soldiers’ clothes, withered like a prayer rug, confused like a dog chasing its tail, and a war chasing its names. I say: Be the father of howling, O road, be the mother of regret, O building.  Let me try my heart stagnant in a frosty river, let me try the frantic sweating of questions in the winter of my astonishment, and my mother is continuing dinner without tears. There are no dead in the building next door, so at night I can still hear the door coughing at night. No one is alive in the building next door, but I still hear the hiss of absence in my heart.


How can I forgive myself when I left you in the crowd? The sky is raining iron, the ground is like an old carpet we shake the dust off.  Among the crowd, the hospital was far away, and the sky continued its delirium.  And the hospital is still far away. Blue and green are gone, and nothing remains in my eyes but ashes, and the crowd is hysterical, raving, wailing: I am the forest of the dead. The beggars returned to him and found him blind, and I went back to look for my eyes, but I did not find them. How can I forgive myself? And the hospital far away?


When I return from the war, if I do,
don’t look into my eyes,
do not see what I saw.


If war knew
that it made good poets,
it would shoot itself.


The following poems are from Nasser Rabah’s collection: Passersby with Invisible Clothes 

Published by Fada’at; Amman, Jordan. First edition. 2013. 

The poems were written between 2010-2013 in Gaza.


The Poem Said Its Word

The poem said its word, and is gone,
no ceremony is left, no birth’s ritual, and no harp leading the worshippers to the prayers of love. No clouds are exchanging with me any praise and no trees calling me by my graceful names or stretching my shadow, then I pray for a window, its origin is in my heart but its branches are in my yearning.
The poem said its word, and is gone, but the language was devoted to the miserable poor working in the garden, behind them were roses, cedars, and wine, leading a prayer of songs’ seeds, which they abandoned, tracing the poem to the rise of the sun, the meaning was a mirage, I follow, it follows back. It was a whiteness floating on still rotten water, and I was on the edge of water watching my face and denying it, watching my face and denying it, thousands of crowing cocks behind me.

The poem said its word and is gone,
no pen is left to open Aka stretched along an expanse of preachers, and no sword to amputate a hand of the thieves of my dreams. Now what do I say to the window screen with doves pecking at me! What do I say to the policeman preparing my confession’s chair?  What do I say about hunting a deer, and to the crouching expanse of the first page of whiteness? What does a lone table say to the besieging chairs? And what does the mute say to her lover when a long silence leads the prayer? What does the voyage say to two lovers about the destination? And who can interpret surah al – Raml, that weeping prophets had drenched with tears?

When the wind was a drum for its steeds, who knew I had a leg to wobble with through a sea without banks, on my way back to the caliphs every day when a city sat on my palm? Or I had a night searching hastily for its mirrors, and a window with a day of madness and slogans? Who knew I had the lip of singing, and the babbling of children, or I had the toll of bells when air lifts, then releasing your hair?

The poem said its word, and is gone,
Now I sit tepid counting on my fingers my wounds, and how many soldiers remained with me.


The Newspaper Vendor

His heart was newspapers distributing greetings among the doorsteps of houses, then he departs. Nobody is looking at his drenched eyes with dew and longing. Nobody is asking about his rosy fatigued legs, covered with distances. He recognizes the doors by the smell of the wood, by the thickness of the paint, by the grasses of the path, and he knows behind each door you find warm nights, gardens ready to rise from their dreams, and nightgowns mewing beside the beds. He knows he is a lone bird passing through the city before a fall of too much distress, then sowing seeds on the verandas. No one remained buying newspapers, or moving their eyes, slowly reading pages about love. 

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