Guest contribution by Karimah Al-Helew
I just wanted to tell you that I love you. Please Smile. I am a person. A Woman. A Muslim. A Cuban-Palestinian born in America, and I happen to express myself better in poetry—or at least I think I do. With that written, I ask you to stand in my shoes for a minute. Below is a piece, a snapshot, a taste of life in Palestine as it embraced me during my last visit. We live in a place where injustice is as evident as the sky is blue. But with every breath that we breathe, we can counter it, even if it is just by telling someone else’s story. Or our own.
Peace and thank you,
There is so much to say, I can’t just say it
There is so much I’m feeling I can’t just explain it
I try to sift the words that swim in my mind
But I’m afraid of committing an injustice
And these words might be my everything, and still fall behind.
Too often I call upon the whisper of the winds to give my words weight. Ragged breathing—thoughts—my mind in its agitated state.
Recalling memories must become my best trait; for memories are bloodlines to narratives silenced by the Holy Lands woven fate
This is more than skin. Captured moments so deep
I want you to know, to be, to see.
May my eyes be windows and ease this heart in limbo
Even though my memory is not photographic
I will work my hardest to paint sounds for you with absolutely no static.
I keep my eyes open when the wind blows so my brain can breathe since these choking checkpoints have my chest asthmatic.
Cab rides through rough roads, I cross daily, one, two three, four flags, All Israeli.
Who would have thought bright white, would burn so bad?
Cement structures protecting settler’s incessant land grab.
Dogmatic stares drip green with gas.
I was ready to burn and they lit the match.
Who would have thought Bright white would burn so bad
I think about the bright white that burned babies, moms and dads.
The bright white lights, late at night subtracting safety
I’m in the West Bank. The land across which my family is spanned
Like the lines that trace my fingers and my DNA strands.
And still I have to get in line with my I.D. in hand.
And still my privilege drips thick as my blue- eagle is stamped.
While so many, much more deserving than I,
Stuck like animals for hours in a pen.
Processed like meat, one by one
Thinking, I did it once, but they do it again and again.
Looking left and right and it’s all the same
He breathes on me.
His paper mask can’t mask his disease, his eyes lull and he starts to fall
But he leans on me.
A blessing amidst the abominable,
We’re stuck, but bodies packed won’t let bodies fall
His wife’s eyes plead.
Let me in! Let me in! Her voice drenched in grief.
3 hours. And counting
Living for a breath, or for the sky to see.
Like the way homes here climb up, this broken kingdom
She seeks rooftop freedom
Blissful moments help to forget the demons
Dressed in green and holding machine guns
Or dressed in plain clothes, taking a stroll, and holding machine guns
Or those who live inside her home and shoot down her only hope just because she’s not one of the sons
She never thought she’d get to the point where her liberation only exists when she dreams.
But her dreams rely on freedom,
So I guess it’s depressing to dream then.
She speaks to me; wet eyes fixed on far away diamonds.
She strangles her hands and I see she’s searching
As her eyes close she says, “I see myself falling”
White air caressing eyelids: “Freedom is a fantasy and death is calling.”
This is real, not some far off tale—make believe.
How do you make someone invincible?
Sitto lies on her bed, immobile
Thinking will kill she says
And when I see the lies that live in her eyes I cry because life isn’t worth staring out a closed window.
Light seeps through cracks so she sees her hands, river veins remind her, Her blood still sews.
I see faces in those blue traces, bloodlines, you aren’t broken,
You were born once, an infant,
I make water wishes that you be taken back to that instant
Your skin is soft, but your eyes have lost their brilliance
And I don’t believe you are whole, but you can’t be broken
Because roots precede fruit and you are my ocean.
And like your bloodline veins tracing faces, in me you are woven.
Sitto, Sitto, don’t let go.
You gave birth to bounties, and they will hold you
You walked in ‘48 and walked again in ‘67
You can’t walk any more but I pray your WILL, will rise above these forced Impediments
You’ve witnessed death and displacement, raised kids in tenements.
Like a young man now in his twenties
Says the intifada was where most of his “play time” was spent
Blue- eyed smiles and timid,
Hard to believe he was shot three times since he was nine
Left to bleed and crawl to an ambulance
His mother says, I couldn’t stop him
So I just wipe his blood and wipe my tears
And pray God protects him
Or the young man, who said,
I was eleven.
Curfew was imposed but I wanted to see the sun
Instead I saw my neighbors head explode,
And that memory I will never outrun.
Words will never interpret these visions
The endless stories untold need a truth commission
Life interrupted. I spent eight months embedded
And still can’t swallow it
I’ll give it my all, and it still needs revision
And I invoke that my utterances at least give some release to this
Blood clotted incision
And peace means nothing when you’re living in division.
So I just pray that hope keeps lighting up this prison
The smiles don’t stop, and neither will the resistance.
Karimah Al-Helew was born and raised in San Jose, California and graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Social Work and a Minor in Political Science. She recently volunteered in the West Bank with Project Hope, an organization that works to create a safe space for Palestinian people of all ages. She spent her time in Palestine teaching English, Spanish, creative writing, coaching soccer and living with family. And she would do it again in a heart beat.