first writing since
This powerful piece is from Suheir Hammad. Suheir is the author of "Born
Palestinian, Born Black" and other books. She calls it simply -
"first writing since"
1. there have been no words. i have not written one word. no poetry in the
ashes south of canal street. no prose in the refrigerated trucks driving
debris and dna. not one word.
today is a week, and seven is of heavens, gods, science. evident out my
kitchen window is an abstract reality. sky where once was steel. smoke
where once was flesh.
fire in the city air and i feared for my sister's life in a way never
before. and then, and now, i fear for the rest of us.
first, please god, let it be a mistake, the pilot's heart failed, the
plane's engine died. then please god, let it be a nightmare, wake me now.
please god, after the second plane, please, don't let it be anyone who
looks like my brothers.
i do not know how bad a life has to break in order to kill. i have never
been so hungry that i willed hunger i have never been so angry as to want
to control a gun over a pen. not really. even as a woman, as a palestinian,
as a broken human being. never this broken.
more than ever, i believe there is no difference. the most privileged
nation, most americans do not know the difference between indians,
afghanis, syrians, muslims, sikhs, hindus. more than ever, there is no
2. thank you korea for kimchi and bibim bob, and corn tea and the genteel
smiles of the wait staff at wonjo the smiles never revealing the heat of
the food or how tired they must be working long midtown shifts. thank you
korea, for the belly craving that brought me into the city late the night
before and diverted my daily train ride into the world trade center.
there are plenty of thank yous in ny right now. thank you for my lazy
procrastinating late ass. thank you to the germs that had me call in sick.
thank you, my attitude, you had me fired the week before. thank you for the
train that never came, the rude nyer who stole my cab going downtown. thank
you for the sense my mama gave me to run. thank you for my legs, my eyes,
3. the dead are called lost and their families hold up shaky printouts in
front of us through screens smoked up.
we are looking for iris, mother of three. please call with any information.
we are searching for priti, last seen on the 103rd floor. she was talking
to her husband on the phone and the line went. please help us find george,
also known as a! ! del. his family is waiting for him with his favorite
meal. i am looking for my son, who was delivering coffee. i am looking for
my sister girl, she started her job on monday.
i am looking for peace. i am looking for mercy. i am looking for evidence
of compassion. any evidence of life. i am looking for life.
4. ricardo on the radio said in his accent thick as yuca, "i will feel so
much better when the first bombs drop over there. and my friends feel the
on my block, a woman was crying in a car parked and stranded in hurt. i
offered comfort, extended a hand she did not see before she said, "we"re
gonna burn them so bad, i swear, so bad." my hand went to my head and my
head went to the numbers within it of the dead iraqi children, the dead in
nicaragua. the dead in rwanda who had to vie with fake sport wrestling for
yet when people sent emails saying, this was bound to happen, lets ! ! not
forget u.s. transgressions, for half a second i felt resentful. hold up
with that, cause i live here, these are my friends and fam, and it could
have been me in those buildings, and we"re not bad people, do not support
america's bullying. can i just have a half second to feel bad?
if i can find through this exhaust people who were left behind to mourn and
to resist mass murder, i might be alright.
thank you to the woman who saw me brinking my cool and blinking back tears.
she opened her arms before she asked "do you want a hug?" a big white
woman, and her embrace was the kind only people with the warmth of flesh
can offer. i wasn't about to say no to any comfort. "my brother's in the
navy," i said. "and we"re arabs". "wow, you got double trouble." word.
5. one more person ask me if i knew the hijackers. one more motherfucker
ask me what navy my brother is in. one more person assume no arabs or
muslims were killed.one more person assume they know me, or that i
represent a people. or that a people represent an evil. or that evil is as
simple as a flag and words on a page.
we did not vilify all white men when mcveigh bombed oklahoma. america did
not give out his family's addresses or where he went to church. or blame
the bible or pat robertson.
and when the networks air footage of palestinians dancing in the street,
there is no apology that hungry children are bribed with sweets that turn
their teeth brown. that correspondents edit images. that archives are there
to facilitate lazy and inaccurate journalism.
and when we talk about holy books and hooded men and death, why do we never
mention the kkk?
if there are any people on earth who understand how new york is feeling
right now, they are in the west bank and the gaza strip.
6. today it is ten days. last night bush waged war on a man once openly
funded by the cia. i do not know who is responsible. read too many books,
know too many people to believe what i am told. i don't give a fuck about
bin laden. his vision of the world does not include me or those i love. and
petittions have been going around for years trying to get the u.s.
sponsored taliban out of power. shit is complicated, and i don't know what
but i know for sure who will pay.
in the world, it will be women, mostly colored and poor. women will have to
bury children, and support themselves through grief. "either you are with
us, or with the terrorists" - meaning keep your people under control and
your resistance censored. meaning we got the loot and the nukes.
in america, it will be those amongst us who refuse blanket attacks on the
shivering. those of us who work toward social justice, in support of civil
liberties, in opposition to hateful foreign policies.
i have never felt less american and more new yorker, particularly brooklyn,
than these past days. the stars and stripes on all these cars and apartment
windows represent the dead as citizens first, not family members, not lovers.
i feel like my skin is real thin, and that my eyes are only going to get
darker. the future holds little light.
my baby brother is a man now, and on alert, and praying five times a day
that the orders he will take in a few days time are righteous and will not
weigh his soul down from the afterlife he deserves.
both my brothers - my heart stops when i try to pray - not a beat to
disturb my fear. one a rock god, the other a sergeant, and both
palestinian, practicing muslim, gentle men. both born in brooklyn and their
faces are of the archetypal arab man, all eyelashes and nose and beautiful
color and stubborn hair.
what will their lives be like now?
over there is over here.
7. all day, across the river, the smell of burning rubber and limbs floats
through. the sirens have stopped now. the advertisers are back on the air.
the rescue workers are traumatized. the skyline is brought back to human
size. no longer taunting the gods with its height.
i have not cried at all while writing this. i cried when i saw those
buildings collapse on themselves like a broken heart. i have never owned
pain that needs to spread like that. and i cry daily that my brothers
return to our mother safe and whole.
there is no poetry in this. there are causes and effects. there are symbols
and ideologies. mad conspiracy here, and information we will never know.
there is death here, and there are promises of more.
there is life here. anyone reading this is breathing, maybe hurting, but
breathing for sure. and if there is any light to come, it will shine from
the eyes of those who look for peace and justice after the rubble and
rhetoric are cleared and the phoenix has risen.
affirm life. affirm life. we got to carry each other now. you are either
with life, or against it. affirm life.