Video: Suheir Hammad reading ‘Beyond Words’ at ADC 2004

Suheir Hammad performing Beyond Words at the 21st National ADC Convention, 12 June 2004. (EI)

Palestinian-American poet and political activist Suheir Hammad has published a book of poems, Born Palestinian, Born Black, and a memoir, Drops Of This Story, and is prominently featured in Listen Up! An Anthology Of Spoken Work Poetry. Recipient of the Audre Lourde Writing Award from Hunter College, the Morris Center for Healing Poetry Award, and a New York Mills Artist Residency in Minnesota, Suheir is a frequent reader at New York reading venues, including numerous radio appearances, and has performed with The All That Band and Rhythms of Aqua. Naomi Shihab Nye has called Hammad’s work “a brave flag over the dispossessed.” Suheir has recently been touring with the Tony Award-winning Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam.

  • Watch Suheir reading Beyond Words at ADC
    [12 min, 2 sec, 8 MB, MPEG-4/Quicktime video format]

    B E Y O N D   W O R D S

    1.
    Where has my language gone?
    The poet searches for words to wrap around these times
    Make them sense   Make them pretty   Make them useful

    Words from the past haunt our conversations
    Empire and Crusade
    Plans and Centuries
    All these words cleared understanding before
    Fall heavy now
    And weightless into this abyss of bad news

    I have seen the photographs
    Again words   Prison   Torture

    Desperate for words I can write
    That are not profane   That are objective   Read as rational
    So people will not stop reading this self-conscious poem
    So my parents will not be embarrassed
    So Americans will demand the return of their own

    Desperate for words I can write
    So I can keep from becoming something hard and unforgiving

    Language has failed me

    I am told to believe nothing I read
    Then everything I read
    I am given my own face to be wary of
    I am told to fear colors as alerts
    I am told over and over
    Iraq is not Palestine
    Kabul is not New York

    The photos
    Women Raped
    Posed as girls gone wild
    This is entertainment   This is staged   This is recorded
    Men Chained
    Do words such as humiliation and torture
    Truly fit the immensity of these acts?
    What happens to those who survive?
    What happens to those responsible?

    Haiti is not Chechnya
    Chiapas is not East L.A.
    Iraq is not Palestine
    Over and over I am told

    I am given a vantage point and a lens and instructed
    Do not move   Do not look up   Do not look down

    I am falling

    2.
    No connections here
    No illuminated parallels
    Two different histories and two different peoples
    Make no links
    Do not confuse the issues

    Only confuse the people

    For 56 years Israel has legitimized
    This type of behavior
    Sanctioned violence in the name of a god
    Who does not have enough love for us all
    A god who chooses sides
    A god who has favorites and chosen ones
    A god who cuts deals and shuffles souls
    The type of god who does not answer prayers
    Who understands only one language
    A god who does not worry his beautiful mind with
    Such ugliness
    I am told this is America’s god

    The photos from Rafah Palestine
    It is 1948 and 2004 in the same frame
    Their eyes say to the camera
    What will you do with this pain?
    Where will you take it?
    Can you take it from me?

    This space between the lens and the subjects
    Is concentrated with pleas for witness
    With promises of cycles unbroken
    With children’s bicycles under the rubble of once were homes

    Another level of exile is being constructed

    And I am falling

    Aaagghh, ya Phalesteen
    What is it about us they hate so much?
    This face? These eyes? This obstinate refusal to die?
    How much trauma can one nation endure with the world staring?
    Some mouths open in shock
    Others silent and sneering
    While women scream at a frequency the living cannot hear
    Again?   Again ya Phalesteen?

    3.
    How fucked up is it that I have to choose between ending
    One occupation or another?
    Partition my time and portion my information

    I have to make Nice   Play Fair and Polite
    When I want to tear open my chest to void it of this emptiness
    This ache has eaten into my head and wears down my dreams
    My friends worry I am not eating enough
    Am taking too much on Too much in
    I find nowhere to rest this responsibility

    If I say nothing I am complicit
    If I say something I am isolated as extreme
    As a theorist in conspiracy
    As if war is ever a coincidence
    As if genocide simply happens

    This is about oil and land and water
    This is about illusion and the taking on of airs
    The poor once again the munitions in rich men’s cannons

    This is about light and dark
    There is no black and white in humanity

    I am told
    Venezuela is not Cuba
    Rwanda is not Kurdistan

    I am not the woman kneeling
    In front of soldiers and their cameras and their weapons
    I am not the child shot in the head by the Israeli Defense Forces
    I am not the starving AIDS inflicted mother
    Praying I live longer than my children
    So they will not be orphaned and sick and have to bury me
    I am not the child who watched
    Her family chopped to death in Lebanon   in Sudan   in Nicaragua
    I am not the father who leaves his children so as not to hear their empty Bellies call out Baba, where is the bread?

    I am the woman whose taxes outfitted this tragedy
    The American the Authority does not speak for
    The Arab the Arab leaders do not speak for
    The woman whose shouts of Not in My Name
    Were spit back at me as a slogan of the misguided at best
    I am the girl from Brooklyn told to mind her business
    I am the poet in search of new words
    And a new world   Not Mars

    4.
    We use antiquated terms that cannot stretch enough to touch this truth
    We have not learned from the past enough to not repeat it

    I am told it has always been this way
    War and Pillage
    Rape is older than prostitution
    And prostitution is the oldest politic
    The way the world has always been
    The pimps and those they pimp

    The human race has always left
    Those who fall behind

    If I am to survive then
    I learn from the present
    From the future promised

    We learn to live with madness
    One cannot be healthy in a sick world
    Only navigate illnesses   Only medicate wounds
    Pray you are not contagious
    Try to hurt no one

    My elders say dissent has always been watched
    Radical ideas have always been recorded
    But even those who have lived on the margins admit
    Under breath   It has never been this bad

    Not everyone is suffering   True
    Most thirst
    A few swim in pools that fake connection to seas
    Most starve
    I throw away meals I have no appetite for
    You can shop from your couch and eat food fast
    And never think about anything other than your credit card debt
    And the next hour’s purchases
    Shop and stop asking questions
    I have envied this stupor
    Even knowing it is the least honorable suicide
    Even knowing its apathy is another kind of murder

    5.
    Sometimes all you can do is inhale and exhale
    Life a shallow version of its potential
    Sometimes all you can do is search for life where you are
    In the city   A flash of yellow on the basketball court
    The divine geometry in the pattern of a girl’s hijab

    For a week I have been cleaning and knifing enough
    Parsley for tabbouleh to feed hundreds
    I pray over the green
    That what I make will feed those in need of a meal

    There is still love in us
    The proof is that we are watching it die
    There is still hope in us
    Hope is there in my sisters’ eyes
    There is still enough resistance in us
    To create a world where there is no
    Your people or my people
    But our people
    Our people who kill   Our people who are killed

    I somehow know love will save us
    The proof is in the stories not broadcast
    The poems not published
    The truth between the lies
    The stories whispered in the dusk of this day

    I know somehow love will save us
    Though I can’t find the passion or desire in my body to make it
    There is still a source for peace deeply embedded in this chaos

    I know love will save us
    Though words fail to point out how

    Amazingly I still pray
    To a god I envision to be larger than any nation   Any religion

    And I still hunt for language to gather into a poem
    That I pray will feed those like me
    In need of proof they are not alone

    Related Links

  • Suheir Hammad website
  • BY TOPIC: Arts, Music & Culture
  • BY TOPIC: Books & Literature