“A Prayer Band”: Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad on Hurricane Katrina

Suheir performing “A Prayer Band” at the Refugees for Refugees event. (Photo: Tom Martinez)

A Palestinian-American from Brooklyn, Suheir Hammad has appeared on the HBO show “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry,” hosted by Mos Def. Her poems have been featured in numerous publications, on the BBC World Service, and National Public Radio.

Hammad recently wrote two poems about Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. The first reprinted here, “A Prayer Band”, was performed at an event organised by Hammad called “Refugees for Refugees” in New York City on September 9th, which raised $5,000 for hurricane relief.

Suheir arrived in Jackson, Mississippi yesterday, to deliver the money personally and help with direct relief efforts.

Hurricane Katrina (Image: NASA)

a prayer band

every thing

you ever paid for
you ever worked on
you ever received

every thing

you ever gave away
you ever held on to
you ever forgot about

every single thing is one
of every single thing and all
things are gone

every thing i can think to do
to say i feel
is buoyant

every thing is below water
every thing is eroding
every thing is hungry

there is no thing to eat
there is water every where
and there is no thing clean to drink

the children aren’t talking

the nurses have stopped believing
anyone is coming for us

the parish fire chief will never again tell anyone that help is coming

now is the time of rags
now is the indigo of loss
now is the need for cavalry

   new orleans
   i fell in love with your fine ass   poor boys   sweating   frying
   catfish   blackened life   thick women   glossy   seasoning
   bourbon   indians   beads   grit   history of races
   and losers who still won

   new orleans
   i dreamt of living   lush   within your shuttered eyes
   a closet of yellow dresses   a breeze on my neck
   writing poems for do right men and a daughter of refugees

i have known of displacement
and the tides pulling every thing
that could not be carried within
and some of that too

a jamaican man sings
those who can afford to run will run
what about those who can’t
they will have to stay

end of the month tropical depression turned storm

someone whose beloved has drowned
knows what water can do
what water will do to once animated things

a new orleans man pleads
we have to steal from each other to eat
another   gun in hand   says we will protect what we have
what belongs to us

i have known of fleeing desperate
with children on hips in arms on backs
of house keys strung on necks
of water weighed shoes
disintegrated official papers
leases   certificates   births   deaths   taxes

i have known of high ways which lead nowhere
of aches in teeth   in heads   in hands tied

i have known of women raped by strangers   by neighbors
of a hunger in human

i have known of promises to return
to where you come from
but first any bus   going any where

tonight the tigris and the mississippi moan
for each other as sisters
full of unnatural things
flooded with predators and prayers

all language bankrupt

how long before hope begins to eat itself?
how many flags must be waved?
when does a man let go of his wife’s hand in order to hold his child?

who says this is not the america they know?

what america do they know?

were the poor people so poor they could not be seen?

were the black people so many they could not be counted?

this is not a charge
this is a conviction

if death levels us all
then life plays favorites

and life   it seems   is constructed
of budgets   contracts   deployments
of wards and automobiles   of superstition and tourism
and gasoline   but mostly insurance

and insurance   it seems   is only bought
and only with what cannot be carried within
and some of that too

a city of slave bricked streets
a city of chapel rooms
a city of haints

a crescent city

where will the jazz funeral be held?

when will the children talk?

tonight it is the dead
and dying who are left
and those who would rather not
promise themselves they will return

they will be there
after everything is gone
and when the saints come
marching like spring
to save us all

Related Links

  • Palestine’s people never say goodbye, Suheir Hammad (26 July 2004)
  • Video: Suheir Hammad reading ‘Beyond Words’ at ADC 2004 (12 June 2004)
  • “On the brink of…” Suheir Hammad (20 March 2003)
  • Suheir Hammad’s website at suheirhammad.com
  • Tom Martinez’s photos from the Refugees for Refugees event at Snapfish.com
  • The People’s Hurricane Fund - Suheir recommends.
  • BY TOPIC: Books & Literature