“Poetry has always been central in Syria” according to poet and translator Ghada Alatrash. Schoolchildren recite epics, pop stars set poetry to music, and literary parlor games can go on for hours, she says. Now…poetry is pressed into a different kind of service. While in the past, poets would lean heavily on metaphor and allegory, now poets both inside and outside Syria have begun speaking out about the conditions they see, using vivid imagery and strong words. Alatrash, who lives in Canada, has begun
translating the new Syrian poetry into English. She read a poem by Najat Abdul Samad, an OB-GYN physician. Samad lives and works in Sweida, in the south of Syria.
Some of the poets Alatrash is working with “do fear their lives and the consequences for their children,” she said. Nonetheless, they have agreed to let Alatrash translate and publish their work.
“When I am Overcome By Weakness”
by Najat Abdul Samad / Translated by Ghada Alatrash
When I am overcome with weakness, I bandage my heart with a woman’s
patience in adversity.
I bandage it with the upright posture of a Syrian woman who is not bent by bereavement, poverty, or displacement as she rises from the banquets of death and carries on shepherding life’s rituals. She prepares for a creeping, ravenous winter and gathers the heavy firewood branches, stick by stick from the frigid wilderness. She does not cut a tree, does not steal, does not surrender her soul to weariness, does not ask anyone’s charity, does not fold with the load, and does not yield midway.
I bandage my heart with the determination of that boy they hit with an electric stick on his only kidney until he urinated blood. Yet he returned and walked in the next demonstration.
I bandage it with the steadiness of a child’s steps in the snow of a refugee camp, a child wearing a small black shoe on one foot and a large blue sandal on the other, wandering off and singing to butterflies flying in the sunny skies, butterflies and skies seen only by his eyes.
I bandage it with December’s frozen tree roots, trees that have sworn to blossom in March or April.
I bandage it with the voice of reason that was not affected by a proximate
I bandage it with veins whose warm blood has not yet been spilled on the surface of our sacred soil.
I bandage it with what was entrusted by our martyrs, with the conscience of the living, and with the image of a beautiful homeland envisioned by the eyes of the poor.
I bandage it with the outcry: “Death and not humiliation.”