Damascus (2009)


This poem was published in The Lampeter Review, Issue 2. Hammadia Market – Damascus, Syria – Part 1 via @YouTube



I thought it would be different –

a police state, definitely,

with defeated souls wandering

with dower, abject eyes,

trained & disciplined to the dirt.

The propaganda had done its work

on me, built the limits of my knowledge,

not to mention the auxiliary websites,

which spoke of the tortures of the regime.

I was expecting the worst –

It is just that I was so ignorant –

and so late in the game… & the

lacerated meanness of my soul,

manipulated by propaganda –

[the truth regime (family, private property, state) –

breeding & discipline – natality – though some heritages &

legacies must not be honoured],

had heard too long the lies that

breathe out of ‘our’ dark mouths.

I had overcome such horizons

of distortion and lies before,

but, why was this so difficult, different….

Looking back, I look into myself… I wonder if it could

possibly be some type of residual racismsubliminal fear of

the ‘ragheads’, ‘spics’ & ‘wetbacks’ of my father’s diatribes,

‘nigger toes’ for Brazil nuts… ‘Martin Luther King was

an uppity nigger’ and ‘Ted Kennedy is a communist’….. ?

‘Peace is nuclear blackmail’…. ‘If you go to college, they

will turn you into a hophead’ – his adulation of Israeli military

prowess against the ‘sand niggers’…. ?

But, does any of this old news really matter any longer…

Could it not ‘simply’ be a sense of guilt in the anticipated face of the other

outside of the cradle of Europe & its playground in the new world

anxiety in the face of an imminent reversal of facelessness, turning on & tuning

into these anonymous howls and cries of otherness –

myriad calls of conscience scream from countless

unmarked graves of rape, murder & genocide…

Or, is it something else besides…. ?

(I never told anyone I was (‘originally’) ‘American’… (a complicated emotion)…

but let each assume as he wished from my European passport…

my own cowardice… and treason…)

As I am moved along

the winding river of the jungle,

I feel the winds of difference,

new horizons beckoning, new rules,

new customs  — even if in Europe itself,

‘unity’ does not simply mean ‘conformity’ –

‘Unity’? ….. Lies, propaganda, throw this twisted scaffolding down…

I had an argument with my love’s mother

about illusions that swirl about us like a tornado –

illusory except that I could not sleep

(no fault to her) with her daughter in the night…

I finally understand the expression, ‘Fordidden fruit’…

An irony, perhaps a Muslim irony….

Hammadia market, this frenzied arcade

of voices, bodies, styles, and joy –

children spill their ice creams amid the

plethora of faces, swirling arms, eyes…

Belly dancing customes & masques….

Winnie the Pooh pajamas & spices,

Pocket qurans with a little boy

collecting money, giving change.

Swirling in a circle in the grand mosque,

falling – disoriented – into

the women’s prayer section,

seeing sacred things I should not see.

Sufis guide me to my feet,

spin me away & around & around…

Children run around this open space &

chaotically dance betwixt these pillars…

They hold hands & twirl around, around…

On the streets, an (un-armed) police officer

smokes & gives directions to passerbys….

smokes & gives directions to passerbys….

smokes & gives directions to passerbys….

A woman with a short mini-skirt with a visible thong

walks hand in hand with a woman who is ‘covered’,

pushing along a pram in which a baby smiles….

Two young men hold hands on the bus to Aleppo…

It is Thursday night & we dine at

Bashar’s favourite place, right across

the street from a Greek Orthodox church

that shares this starlight with a Muslim minaret

We drink our wine as a blizzard of food

descends upon us from all sides, Arabic cuisine….

We wish to run into the night – yet,

‘custom’ enacts myriad layers of pleasure…

in the hot air, underneath flights of bats,

we have coffee – then a tray of watermelon –

then plates of wonderful Syrian sweets –

Night, the fate of gods, calls to us,

& we grab a cab back to Cora Assad.

The cab driver names a price in Arabic

& the host of voices explode, haggling,

negotiating, bartering from 1000 to 400….

Everything is negotiable,

every price is contingent….

like the ‘free market’ of the fairy tales –

But, in a (Baathist) ‘socialist’ state???

Pan-Arab, secular, but with an executive

symbology of Islam – emergency government

since the coup in 1963… it is a parliamentary

government, except that – due to the state of

emergency – the executive is controlled by a

member of the Baathist party and must be a Muslim.

Ten sanctioned parties sit on a consultative council.

This current hegemony of one party – and one religion –

is being questioned by philosophers, poets,

artists and film-makers in Syria.

Nizar Qabbani whispers that every word and act

from the government is a lie, is a lie – Qabbani, it

should be remembered, wished to be buried in Syria,

the womb of his creativity under the Jasmin trees –

Will  Adonis (who, I think, has the wrong ‘friends’)

return to Damascus to help her be born into maturity?

It is the haunting war with Israel that is

the major, determining factor

in Syrian domestic and foreign

policy research and strategy.

Most resources are either placed

in projects which are designed

to prepare for the next invasion,

or are diverted to other countries,

such as electricity to Jordan, as

a means and manner of maintaining

and growing, the ‘unity’ of ‘Arab’ states….

It is Thursday night…. the sublime night

in the Arab and Muslim worlds —

the night before a day of prayer….

as with the night of the fast, in which pleasure abounds,

Thursday night in Damascus is a night of celebration…

Across the myriad parks in the night families dance,

mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters –

grandparents, uncles and aunts, friends… so many people

that the green grass disappears amid this flux of humanity….

smiling faces, shisha pipes, lovely food & drink….

Little children running under the stars & moon amid

the night of the world, families have their picnics,

smoke shisha, and dance – all past the witching hour…

There are little shops on the streets

selling anything you could want (vodka,

wine, beer, cigarettes, food, sweets, etc.)

until three o’clock in the morning —

That’s better than London, at least….

One would be a criminal if he were to eat, dance

and smoke shisha (or even be there) in Hyde Park in the night…….

No one ever wants to go into Central Park or Prospect Park at night…

But, that is only due to propaganda – ‘if you go to X,

then you will be raped & murdered… is this a threat, perhaps,

with the subwhisper, ‘We certainly don’t want them hippies

to set up their communes again – or, anybody else to

have the space to create chaos in the Night!’….

It is all a fear compaign – I used to go there

at night, sometimes with a dog I had, and

sit, think, smoke & drink – sometimes a

homeless guy would pass nearby, carrying a trashbag…

A sublime space, one that is perhaps

thankfully neglected…

We sit with dear friends at an open air cafe, imbibing

the local beer – three different colored bottles,

three colors of beer – but it was the same brand –

televisions set at the edge of each table… Arab music

videos vibrate the space as a girl & boy smile upon us

from a Coke™ ad that spans the entire side of a building…

Who would have expected it?

Just from the standpoint of freedom

of movement, I felt freer in Syria

(cascading small motorcycles & taxis –

the unbounded eruption of Damascus,

much too ecstatic to control with force)

than in London or Paris, & in some

parts of New York – we need free spaces,

a place for this, a place to be, to exist…

Why don’t lots of people go to Central Park

or Hyde Park or Tiergarten in Berlin– AT NIGHT –


throw unannounced ecstatic night festivals

with musicians, poets, artists, philosophers,

film-makers & political and cultural activists –

and – god forbid, ‘real’, ‘actual’ people…..

wine et al., smoke, lovely flesh, music

& dance – a Dionysian festival of resistance…?

A Saturnalia in December?

Why not take advantage of this space –

for which – at night – there is no demand…..

it is free & it is free & it is free….

Perhaps a little risk is involved, at first…

But, if you persist, maybe, in a little

while, you can be as free as the Syrians!

Just think!  As free as the Syrians!!!



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