“first writing since”

By Suheir Hammad 

Following are excerpts from a poem by poet Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian raised in Brooklyn, NY. It was the first poem she wrote after Sept. 11. The complete poem is available here .

1. 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…

3. 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 

Suheir Hammad is author of a book of poems, Born Palestinian, Born Black, and the memoir Drops Of This Story. Reprinted with permission.

Winter 2001 / 2002