I wasn’t being bountiful
When I spent my youthful beauty
When I kept hold of my life;
When I endured years of nights in a cell.
It wasn’t ignorance
When I didn’t know how to smile;
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;
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;
When I left behind the ones I love;
Guilty without sin,
Jailed for seeking freedom,
Tortured because I feel
As people do.
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?
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
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,
That can be read by the blind
Mute lines, there is nothing
They can declare
Except to speak of torture.
When they said you had arrived
I was filled with joy
The wounds on my body smiled
And my shackles cried
My heart set out for you
On a journey of longing
Filled with yearning
My soul also took flight
Crawling on the surface of the clouds
Like a starving child
So wracked with hunger
He ate dirt
Here I am, a present for you
Sweet feelings that speak softly
To your tender age
Let them be as food and drink
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.
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.
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,
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.
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”.