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Poet reflects on his time ‘Sleeping in Gaza’ during airstrikes

Kareem James Abu-Zeid reads his translation of Najwan Darwish’s poem “Sleeping in Gaza” from his collection “Nothing More To Lose” at the 2015 AWP Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis. The text of the poem is below.

Sleeping in Gaza

Fado, I’ll sleep like people do
when shells are falling
and the sky is torn like living flesh
I’ll dream, then, like people do
when shells are falling:
I’ll dream of betrayals

I’ll wake at noon and ask the radio
the questions people ask of it:
Is the shelling over?
How many were killed?

But my tragedy, Fado,
is that there are two types of people:
those who cast their suffering and sins
into the streets so they can sleep
and those who collect the people’s suffering and sins
mold them into crosses, and parade them
through the streets of Babylon and Gaza and Beirut
all the while crying
Are there any more to come?
Are there any more to come?

Two years ago I walked through the streets
of Dahieh, in southern Beirut
and dragged a cross
as large as the wrecked buildings
But who today will lift a cross
from the back of a weary man in Jerusalem?

The earth is three nails
and mercy a hammer:
Strike, Lord
Strike with the planes

Are there any more to come?

Najwan Darwish, one of the foremost Arabic-language poets of his generation, was born in Jerusalem in 1978. He has worked as the editor of two cultural magazines in Palestine and was a cultural critic for the prominent Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar from 2006 to 2012. Darwish has been an organizer and advisor for many public arts projects, among them the Palestine Festival of Literature. In 2009, he founded a literary press in Jerusalem, and he is currently involved in establishing a new pan-Arab newspaper, where he will be the chief editor of the arts and culture section. In 2009, he was on the Hay Festival Beirut’s list of the “Best 39 Arab authors under the age of 39.” He lives in Jerusalem.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid is an award-winning translator of poets and novelists from across the Arab world. His most recent book-length translations include Najwan Darwish’s “Nothing More to Lose,” Dunya Mikhail’s “The Iraqi Nights” and Rabee Jaber’s “The Mehlis Report.” He has received a Lannan Foundation residency and a Fulbright research fellowship, among other honors, and received Poetry magazine’s 2014 translation prize. He is currently writing a book called “Lighting the Mind: A History of Psychedelic Literature from the Rig Veda to the Present Day,” which is doubling as his PhD dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley.

This video was filmed at the AWP Conference & Bookfair. Special thanks to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

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