I
there have been no words.
i have not written one word.
no poetry in the ashes south of canal
street.
no prose in the refrigerated trucks
driving debris and dna.
not one word.

today is a week, and seven is of
heavens, gods, science.
evident out my kitchen window is an
abstract reality.
sky where once was steel.
smoke where once was flesh.

fire in the city air and i feared for my
sister’s life in a way never before.
and then, and now, i fear for the rest of
us.

first, please god, let it be a mistake, the
pilot’s heart failed, the plane’s engine
died.
then please god, let it be a nightmare,
wake me now.
please god, after the second plane,
please, don’t let it be anyone who
looks like my brothers.

i do not know how bad a life has to
break in order to kill.
i have never been so hungry that i
willed hunger.
i have never been so angry as to want
to control a gun over a pen.
not really.
even as a woman, as a palestinian, as a
broken human being.
never this broken.

more than ever, i believe there is no
difference.
the most privileged nation, most
americans do not know the difference
between indians, afghanis, syrians,
muslims, sikhs, hindus.
more than ever, there is no difference.

II
thank you korea for kimchi and
bibim bob, and corn tea and the
gentle smiles of the wait staff at
wonjo — smiles never revealing the
heat of the food or how tired they
must be working long midtown
shifts.
thank you korea, for the belly craving
that brought me into the city late the
night before and diverted my daily
train ride into the world trade center.

there are plenty of thank yous in ny
right now.
thank you for my lazy procrastinating
late ass.
thank you to the germs that had me
call in sick.
thank you, my attitude, you had me
fired the week before.
thank you for the train that never
came, the rude nyer who stole my cab
going downtown.
thank you for the sense my mama gave
me to run.
thank you for my legs, my eyes, my
life.

III
the dead are called lost and their
families hold up shaky printouts in
front of us through screens smoked
up.
we are looking for iris, mother of three.
please call with any information.
we are searching for priti, last seen on
the 103rd floor. she was talking to her
husband on the phone and the line went.
please help us find george, also known
as adel. his family is waiting for him
with his favorite meal.
i am looking for my son, who was
delivering coffee.
i am looking for my sister girl, she
started her job on monday.

i am looking for peace.
i am looking for mercy.
i am looking for evidence of
compassion.
any evidence of life.
i am looking for life.

IV
ricardo on the radio said in his accent
thick as yucca, “i will feel so much
better when the first bombs drop over
there. and my friends feel the same
way.”

on my block, a woman was crying in a
car parked and stranded in hurt.
i offered comfort, extended a hand she
did not see before she said, “we’re
gonna burn them so bad, i swear, so
bad.”
my hand went to my head and my
head went to the numbers within it of
the dead Iraqi children, the dead in
nicaragua.
the dead in rwanda who had to vie
with fake sport wrestling for america’s attention.

yet when people sent e-mails saying,
this was bound to happen, let’s not
forget u.s. transgressions, for half a
second i felt resentful.
hold up with that, cause i live here,
these are my friends and fam, and it
could have been me in those
buildings, and we’re not bad people,
do not support america’s bullying.
can i just have a half second to feel
bad?

if i can find through this exhaust
people who were left behind to
mourn and to resist mass murder, i
might be all right.

thank you to the woman who saw me
brinking my cool and blinking back
tears.
she opened her arms before she asked
“do you want a hug?”
a big white woman, and her embrace
was the kind only people with the
warmth of flesh can offer.
i wasn’t about to say no to any
comfort.
“my brother’s in the navy,” i said.
“and we’re arabs.”
“wow, you got double trouble.”
word.

V
one more person ask me if i knew the
hijackers.
one more motherfucker ask me what
navy my brother is in.
one more person assume no arabs or
muslims were killed.
one more person assume they know
me, or that i represent a people.
or that a people represent an evil. or
that evil is as simple as a flag and
words on a page.

we did not vilify all white men when
mcveigh bombed oklahoma.
america did not give out his family’s
addresses or where he went to church.
or blame the bible or pat robertson.

and when the networks air footage of
palestinians dancing in the street,
there is no apology that hungry
children are bribed with sweets that
turn their teeth brown.
that correspondents edit images.
that archives are there to facilitate lazy
and inaccurate journalism.

and when we talk about holy books
and hooded men and death, why do
we never mention the kkk?

if there are any people on earth who
understand how new york is feeling
right now, they are in the west bank
and the gaza strip.

VI
today it is ten days.
last night bush waged war on a man
once openly funded by the cia.
i do not know who is responsible. read
too many books, know too many
people to believe what i am told.
i don’t give a fuck about bin laden. his
vision of the world does not include
me or those I love.
and petitions have been going around
for years trying to get the u.s.-
sponsored taliban out of power.
shit is complicated, and I don’t know
what to think.

but i know for sure who will pay.

in the world, it will be women, mostly
colored and poor. women will have to
bury children, and support
themselves through grief.

“either you are with us, or with the
terrorists” — meaning keep your
people under control and your
resistance censored.
meaning we got the loot and the
nukes.

in america, it will be those among us
who refuse blanket attacks on the
shivering.
those of us who work toward social
justice, in support of civil liberties, in
opposition to hateful foreign policies.

i have never felt less american and
more new yorker — particularly
brooklyn — than these past days.
the stars and stripes on all these cars
and apartment windows represent the
dead as citizens first — not family
members, not lovers.

i feel like my skin is real thin, and that
my eyes are only going to get darker.
the future holds little light.

my baby brother is a man now, and on
alert, and praying five times a day
that the orders he will take in a few
days time are righteous and will not
weigh his soul down from the afterlife
he deserves.
both my brothers — my heart stops
when i try to pray — not a beat to
disturb my fear.
one a rock god, the other a sergeant,
and both palestinians, practicing
muslims, gentle men.
both born in Brooklyn and their faces
are of the archetypal arab man, all
eyelashes and nose and beautiful color
and stubborn hair.

what will their lives be like now?

over there is over here.

VII
all day, across the river, the smell of
burning rubber and limbs floats
through. the sirens have stopped
now.
the advertisers are back on the air.
the rescue workers are traumatized.
the skyline is brought back to
human size.
no longer taunting the gods with its
height.

i have not cried at all while writing
this.
i cried when i saw those buildings
collapse on themselves like a broken
heart.
i have never owned pain that needs
to spread like that.
and i cry daily that my brothers
return to our mother safe and whole.

there is no poetry in this.
there are causes and effects.
there are symbols and ideologies.
mad conspiracy here, and information
we will never know.
there is death here, and there are
promises of more.

there is life here.
anyone reading this is breathing,
maybe hurting, but breathing for sure.
and if there is any light to come, it will
shine from the eyes of those who look
for peace and justice after the rubble
and rhetoric are cleared and the
phoenix has risen.

affirm life.
affirm life.
we got to carry each other now.
you are either with life, or against it.
affirm life.

How to cite this article:

Suheir Hammad "first writing since," Middle East Report 221 (Winter 2001).
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