In this poem, I imagine a Syrian girl in her late teens dying, being the last of her family, after she and her family had witnessed the destruction of their village by the Syrian government war planes, which forced them to flee. They end in a refugee camp which the Syrians have named the death camps because the refugees are exposed in most of them inside the country and outside to the terrible heat in summer and the terrible cold in winter with nothing to protect them but the helpless tents.
Who is at the door,
A stranger at the door?
Come in, come in,
Who is not a stranger in this world,
In this life?
Sit on the floor, lady
For we do not have chairs, lady,
From earth to earth.
On the bare earth we sleep,
Our food is mixed with mud
And dusty mouths devour it.
We use mud to clean our pots
And when we do not find water,
Why, we wipe the mud off with the soil.
O, you are still standing
Please sit beside my little brother, Mousa.
I have many sisters and brothers.
Why are you staring at me?
You do not see any brothers and sisters,
But what about Layla the beautiful?
They came on a blind black night,
Big men shouting and cursing.
They pointed their guns at us and laughed.
A soldier tore Layla’s long robe
And she tore the heart of the night.
I hid behind my mother and I saw
Saw Saw Saw
I have never closed my eyes since,
I keep them open day and night.
Sleep is not for us.
Layla died and so did
All my brothers and sisters.
Is that why you stare?
But they are not dead,
How could he die,
He who has never lived?
After they had left the tent
My brothers and sisters
Went to live under the white stones.
The rain kept washing them clean
And they glistened in the sun.
I spend many nights there,
Wandering among them.
In the moonlight
Look like flocks of pure white doves,
Ready to take off and fly away.
I sit on the ground near them
And tell them stories.
They listen and smile.
When my wounded father and sick mother
Joined my sisters and brothers,
I was left alone,
But when I began to cough blood,
They returned to me,
Leaving their shining graves.
Do not look so sad, lady,
I am not alone.
They are here with me.
A bed of a torn filthy mattress
A pillow of sweaty rags,
With the wind howling
Tearing at the tattered tent
With the sands lashing
Spiralling like demented ghosts.
Death claims death
You mustn’t leave your own.
Brothers and sisters we are,
A wounded hand clasps an injured hand,
And parched lips
Kiss parched brows.
Constantly they stay with me
Day and night,
And Mousa keeps moaning.
He will never never stop.
There was a time, lady
When the fields were green
And soft oranges danced in the wind.
There was a time when
The olives ripened
And we climbed high
To collect them,
Our laughter ringing
Among the branches.
There was a time when we played
And collected the red apples.
We had a home then,
But the deafening war planes
Came out of the blue skies.
The bombs dropped
The earth exploded
Our houses fell.
Flames Flames Flames
I heard the screams
As the smoke and the dust
Hid the noon sun.
Then came a black starless night,
But out of the darkness they emerged,
With guns and knives,
Howling like animals.
Why did they do that, why, why?
Layla went out of her mind, why?
I couldn’t remember anything after that.
My memory darkened into silence
And when I came to my senses,
I was sitting on the ground in this tent,
With my mother crying over me.
After the summer of flies and scorpions,
After the long days of stinking sweat,
After the relentless hunger and terrible thirst
Which took Zahra and Hala away from us,
We drifted into a winter without trees
Without a harvest,
But frost and shivering,
Black wind whipping
Tearing at the flesh
Freezing the eyes
Then, hissing hissing
The rains fell,
Then thud thudding.
I floated burning burning
On a pool that gathered
All around me bubbling
And washing me clean while soothing me,
As my sisters and brothers watched me
With soft peaceful eyes, in silence pleading.
There is a great sadness in my heart, lady
For all I can remember is something
Like a storm of death
Of children lulled by earth
Of sisters married to the graves
And brothers sleeping with stones.
Don’t move, lady
The wind is moaning in the distance,
Mousa must have gone there.
Last night I looked out of a big rent
In our tent to see the stars falling,
No, not the stars,
but the snow falling.
I heard it whispering
In the depths of my fever.
it murmured in my waking dreams
It crept upon me
And a sleep like no sleep called my name,
As my mother stretched her white arms to enfold me.
Icicles like diamond waterfalls
Draw frozen shadows along the tent walls
And with gleaming daggers
They rend the darkness collecting above me.
But my lungs and face burn and I feel no cold.
Stars are falling on my face and my parched lips,
Crowning me with light,
I can close my eyes now,
I can sleep.
Don’t touch me, lady.
Alisar Iram, January 2013