Requiem for Homs (Chapter 1)

O mankind, behold this city!
More guileless than Guernica,
more brave than Fallujah,
more wise than Alexandria,
more leveled than Dresden;
city bereft of mother and father,
of east and west,
city without hearth,
without ink,
without unsullied clothes;
here rice is sold by the gram,
here mothers still their infants with brine,
here life has lost its brawn.

O mankind, behold this city!
The city is crying, suffering, fighting,
forsaken by the world to her left,
forsaken by the world to her right;
one day she lit her gunpowder,
cleared her throat,
armed her children with her Arabian pain,
and sent them into battle;
they had never held a rifle.

City starving beneath the eye of the sun,
the sun’s mouth spewing white phosphorus;
the men, the men on the squares, with bare hands
striving to shove it from its orbit:
violence has made them brothers.
They shout: “Death to those who seek the light!”
“Blessed be the black stone!”
“Blessed be the day that earth will be rent in two!”
They believed in their clean hands, believed they were in the right,
believed in a blasphemous and compassionate spring,
in a war without generals.

O children of the Arabian night, messengers of dynamite,
you asked for anti-tank missiles and were sent international observers,
you declared war on the kingdom of this world
and were offered a six-point peace plan;
the bullets they sold you were sterilized
so that the death you spread would be hygienic.
These days the sun is burning your veins,
drying up your rivers, drying out your memory;
these days you learn to eat anything that moves
in a city where even snakes starve. 

Faithful to a moon, gentle, stoic,
faithful to the planets’ cyclical course,
as long as the city disavows the sun
the city will be emaciated and rachitic,
her knees weak, her knots frayed.
Look at how she relinquishes one neighborhood after the other,
carrying her urban planning in her head 
—how the mind falters at such moments—
her digestive system in one hand,
her lice in her public area,
and in her innards, deep inside,
her class hatred in myriad numbers,
always physical, always carnivorous,
and even deeper,
deep within,
a wound that doesn’t clot, 
a final bullet,
a stone to rest on.

This city does not photosynthesize, she does not bloom,
how will she feed her children?
Her walls do not cast shadows,
where will she bury her dead?
She feels pain for her kin, she does not deny it,
gives breadth to death, she does not deny it,
she awaits military help, she does not deny it;
she limps in her northern suburbs,
stands up straight in her southern ones,
proud and ruthless,
this city sends her children
to fight the bombers with their fists,
to set fire to the sun with a box of matches.

Because in Homs they kill, kill
the ninety-nine names of Allah,
the Arabic grammar and the idafa, 
the teachings of Ibn Rushd.
They shoot the tunnel diggers and dynamiters,
those who slept on the wrong side of the wall.
They bomb the schools
in order to level algebra,
in order to burn the first pencil;
they bomb the hospitals
to wipe out freedom
the instant it is born from the nipple,
so as not to hear at night
the cries of those broken by their war;
they bomb with phosphorus and chlorine,
accelerate the maturation of pain,
the oxidation of the wound;
they bomb the slums
because it is there that steel and fire are born,
wood and honeycomb,
where flint is sharpened;
they bomb the cemeteries
to make sure the dead will not return.
They bomb the city’s touch,
her forehead and her cheekbones;
they sever her taste buds,
her periscopic vision.
O Homs, city who has lost your countenance
in a war waged by proxy.

Cessation of talks in Geneva.
Translated by Peter Constantine