Three Poems for Palestine

December 20th, 2023 - by Vox Populi

Write My Name
Zeina Azzam

“Some parents in Gaza have resorted to writing their children’s names on their legs to help identify them should either they or the children be killed.”
—CNN, 10/22/2023

Write my name on my leg, Mama
Use the black permanent marker
with the ink that doesn’t bleed
if it gets wet, the one that doesn’t melt
if it’s exposed to heat

Write my name on my leg, Mama
Make the lines thick and clear
Add your special flourishes
so I can take comfort in seeing
my mama’s handwriting when I go to sleep

Write my name on my leg, Mama
and on the legs of my sisters and brothers
This way we will belong together
This way we will be known
as your children

Write my name on my leg, Mama
and please write your name
and Baba’s name on your legs, too
so we will be remembered
as a family

Write my name on my leg, Mama
Don’t add any numbers
like when I was born or the address of our home
I don’t want the world to list me as a number
I have a name and I am not a number

Write my name on my leg, Mama
When the bomb hits our house
When the walls crush our skulls and bones
our legs will tell our story, how
there was nowhere for us to run

First sketch of Bonaparte Visiting the
Victims of the Plague of Jaffa,
by Antoine-Jean Gros
— Andy Young 

This Napoleon turns his face away
from the slumped
body he half-holds.

The central figures: Syrians
or so it seems
from their lack of uniform.

The one in red fixes startled eyes
on the leader
as if to give a message.

In the Louvre’s final, sprawling version
those figures are gone.
Instead a slumped body tries

to stand as Napoleon reaches out
to touch its wounds.
That version has an outside

clanging in daylight
beyond the striped arches
of the mosque turned

military hospital. We’d call
what’s outside Tel Aviv now.
What would we call

the Syrians—Palestinians?
Where do their
descendants live?

In Damascus maybe
or in a refugee camp
in Yarmouk

its misery thick and similar
to the plague house,
a kindred, jaundiced light—

but they are in a future
outside the frame
as were the bayonetted

prisoners the two days
of rape
and slaughter

Napoleon gave as a gift
to his men. All eyes now
on the Emperor

in his shaft of light. You
either do or do not think
he has a right to be there.

The Ramallah Friends School Childrens’ Choir in Palestine.

The Bitter Roads of Our Desolations 
— David Adès

Once again, we walk the bitter roads of our desolations:

the desolations of vengeance and righteous indignation,
the desolations of competing narratives, of the battle
for hearts and minds, for the moral high ground,

the desolations of us versus them, of the trophies of anguish,
the desolations of the oh so many wrongs we harbour
and the oh so justifiable rights we claim,

the desolations of flowers of kindness buried
under rubble, of the broken hands of the dead,
the desolations of the lies we tell ourselves and each other,

of the truths we refuse to admit,
the desolations of tropes, memes, and comics
obscenely reducing atrocity to slogans,

the desolations of tallying scores, keeping ledgers,
of this historical injustice, and this one, and this one,
of succumbing to the brutal side of our natures,

of being unable to transcend ourselves.
I, readers, am complicit in this.
You, readers, are all complicit in this.

Only the children, terrified, wide-eyed,
have no complicity as we lead them, again,
sacrificial lambs to the slaughter.

Copyright 2023 Zeina Azzam, Andy Young, David AdèsAll rights reserved by the authors.

David Adès was born in Adelaide of Egyptian Jewish parents. He is a poet and short story writer.  He has travelled widely and lived in Israel, India, Greece and the United States. Currently he lives in Australia.

Andy Young lives in New Orleans. Besides her many publications, her work has also been featured in jewelry, visual art, and contemporary and flamenco dance productions.

Zeina Azzam is a Palestinian American poet and the author of Some Things Never Leave You (TIger Bark Press, 2023) and Bayna Bayna, In-Between (The Poetry Box, 2021). She is the poet laureate of Alexandria, Virginia