Being Human 

 

I wasn’t being bountiful

When I spent my youthful beauty

On nothing;

Not miserly 

When I kept hold of my life;

No hero

When I endured years of nights in a cell. 

 

It wasn’t ignorance 

When I didn’t know how to smile; 

Not science

When I discovered injustice. 

My poetry wasn’t genius, nor was it stupidity 

When it proved to be my path to prison. 

My screams were not eloquence,

Nor was my silence muteness. 

 

It wasn’t my beauty

That made the darkness cling to me;

Not my ugliness

That the sun refused to touch my face;

I was no messiah 

When they crucified me;

No unbeliever 

When I wished to die

Naked as a stricken tree. 

 

It wasn’t joy that dressed the coach in red 

That festive colour was my blood. 

 

I was no angel

When my mother cried for me; 

Not devil 

When I left behind the ones I love;

Just human

Guilty without sin,

Jailed for seeking freedom,

Tortured because I feel

As people do. 

 

 

Prison Cell

 

A curse on you, cell, 

For holding on to my memory

So that I discover now

What I wrote on your walls

In years gone by. 

 

Was this your magic

Or was I the magician? 

You have done me no favours 

You are unworthy of gratitude 

And I offer none. 

I came to you unwillingly 

Without love, without desire for you. 

 

Cell, I left my blood on your walls,

When they ripped my body

With their claws and fangs 

Still fresh, my blood is the host

And I its guest. 

 

A curse on you, cell, 

All within you is dead

Except your germs that live 

To feast on my wounds. 

Why is life like this? 

And why do you enjoy my subjugation? 

 

Wait, cell! 

It is not you who vowed to get me back

But the beasts who decided 

Humans are to be caged.

 

Cell, your walls hold my innocent story 

And speak to my lonely poem. 

I am still castrated by you

And your eternal dampness comes

From the flow of my tears. 

 

 

Letter from Prison

 

My son

Forgive this yearning 

And my absence

Sadly, you came when I was away

And stole the joy of your arrival. 

 

If you were to ask about me 

Don’t ask the sun

Ask the prison and its cell

For the answer is etched 

In lashes that cover my body, 

Lines

That can be read by the blind 

Mute lines, there is nothing 

They can declare 

Except to speak of torture. 

 

My son

When they said you had arrived 

I was filled with joy 

The wounds on my body smiled 

And my shackles cried 

In despair

 

My heart set out for you

On a journey of longing 

Filled with yearning 

And love

And blame

 

My soul also took flight 

Crawling on the surface of the clouds 

Like a starving child 

So wracked with hunger 

He ate dirt

 

My son,

Here I am, a present for you

Sweet feelings that speak softly

To your tender age

Let them be as food and drink 

That nourish

And bring you joy. 

 

 

You will not kill me

 

I will die on my own terms 

I will dig my grave with my bare hands 

Stitching together my shroud with my own hair 

And drawing on it the murderer’s picture.

I will anoint myself with the tears of oppression

Bid farewell with longing to every human being,

And bequeath my penury without favour

Leaving my horse to the free. 

I will carry my coffin

Wearing the darkness of night,

Recite verses from the Koran

And walk in my own cortege 

The bearers will be my heart and senses,

My veins and arteries. 

I will write my epitaph on my tombstone with my blood

Poems and songs dedicated to Jerusalem. 

I will mourn my own self

Rejoicing in death 

Heaping all my lamentations on the unjust. 

 

 

Just Wishes

 

If my life had feet

They would carry me for one thousand years

If my heart had lips 

It would blow a thousand kisses.

If my pain could write 

Novels and readers would cry. 

 

If my eyes could command

The guns would fall silent 

Flowers would close the gates of death 

And there would be an end to lies.

 

If my fear had words 

The sea would tremble 

The waves would cower. 

 

If my village 

Gave us fields of corn

Poets would find their rhyme. 

 

If the lemon blossom 

Lent us its perfume 

Hate would perish, 

Our pulse would steady

Love would be revealed. 

 

If… but what use are wishes

When tragedy fills our world 

When weddings are silent 

And our flutes play only sad notes,

When smiles are buried 

In the face of Jerusalem 

Covered in a thousand tears? 

 

Can wishes ever be fruitful

When our very own names weary us? 

 

My apologies… don’t believe that these 

Are only wishes

They are the tracks of my blood. 

 

Tear up your map

You need no signs 

You will find my corpse

By whichever path you take. 

 

 

Peace

 

All free people!

Bring your thunder

Embroider a saddle with lightning 

Make melodies from the screech of bullets 

Beat drums to restore life 

And write a rescue formula in blood. 

 

Call up your volcanoes

Bombard the towers of injustice,

Your words of lava will raze them to the ground. 

Tear down the despair of years,

Plant tenderness

Let dense love-clouds gather

Their rain will germinate long-cherished hopes,

And minds will burst into bloom. 

 

Fill the meadows with roses

Gladden the birds

Command the storm to find a just solution, 

Wash the faces of orphans in tears of joy, 

Let celebration unlock prisoner’s shackles,

And rip hatred from despotic hearts. 

 

All free people! 

Be the medicine against the disease of war,

Be the sun that knows no nightfall, 

And the rejoice at the triumph of peace. 

 

 

I don’t want much

 

I don’t want much

A morsel of bread dried by the wind

Moistened by the rain,

I am not looking for starts 

But searching for the left over light of the moon. 

 

I am looking for embers 

Buried in the ash of a fire; 

I am searching for love 

Buried at the bottom of a heart;

I am looking for kindness in people’s eyes. 

 

Do not just look at the colour of faces

Thinking you understand the whole story,

The colours of faces

Are a blend of pain and oppression. 

 

I ask you to reach beyond the limits of colour

Rise above the irrelevant,

Get to the essence

To the garden of my heart,

You will find the flowers of a thousand wisdoms. 

 

You will find the colours of the spectrum 

The source of the rainbow 

You will find a sun scattering kisses, 

 

You will find an endless sea of love 

Embracing with longing 

All the different shades of human kind. 

 

Freedom Writer

words__rachel arthur; poetry__ghazi hussein | edinburgh__uk

For loose sheets of paper, Ghazi’s Hussein’s poetry carries an unimaginable weight. The only existing copies of his work, they are handed to me with a trust that belies their importance – or perhaps speaks of a level of understanding of the human condition which I am yet to learn. After all, it is words such as these which led their writer to a torturous 20 year imprisonment in Syria. This description is not used lightly – whilst incarcerated as a political prisoner of the Middle East, Hussein was subjected to the kind of torture most of us will never even hear of; sobriquets attached to acts so unbearably inhumane no words currently exist to describe them. 

First arrested as a boy of only 14, Hussein was told he was suspected of smuggling money and arms. So began a six month period spent in a one metre square cell, routine beatings and torture replacing school work and chores. Refusing to be broken, Hussein took straight to education upon his freedom – voraciously learning everything he could about the history and current affairs of his fractured country. Gaining multiple degrees, Hussein would – in a different life – find himself worthy of high praise; in actuality, he found himself deemed “guilty of carrying thoughts”. So a two decade long cycle of imprisonments and releases began, in spite of a lack of any actual charge. 

Refusing silence, Hussein’s strength of being ensured he continued to write about the wrongdoings he encountered on a daily basis – focussing his work on his people as opposed to political movements or governments. The stanzas he penned whilst living through man’s most horrific of tests essentially examine what it is to be human; to have your soul bared with no prior consent, your will tested to its absolute breaking point. Hussein’s poetry speaks of the family he could not witness growing up, the refusal of a spirit to be broken and the eternal search for peace which to this day still shines from his eyes. 

Now a refugee living in the UK, Hussein still seeks the peace which so eluded him in his former life. His journey from the Middle East involved imprisonment in Ceylon, Hungary and Romania before a two year battle with the Home Office which eventually concluded with the procurement of indefinite leave and official refugee status based on the medical evidence of 20 years of torture. Today, he admits his life is still far from easy. Upon arrival in the UK in 2000, a stint living in Glasgow’s Sighthill illustrated the terror and abuse so hard for his to escape: the Hussein’s were stoned, beaten up and verbally abused on a near daily basis. But Hussein refused to admit defeat: “I am still not free, but I won’t give up. I have no tears left to shed, only words to write my poems”. 

Further reading