“Language Has Failed Me” by Suheir Hammad

Where has my language gone?
The poet searches for words to wrap around these times
Make them sense Make them pretty Make them useful

Words from the past haunt our conversations
Empire and Crusade
Plans and Centuries
All these words cleared understanding before
Fall heavy now
And weightless into this abyss of bad news

I have seen the photographs
Again words Prison Torture

Desperate for words I can write
That are not profane That are objective Read as rational
So people will not stop reading this self-conscious poem
So my parents will not be embarrassed
So Americans will demand the return of their own

Desperate for words I can write
So I can keep from becoming something hard and unforgiving

Language has failed me

I am told to believe nothing I read
Then everything I read
I am given my own face to be wary of
I am told to fear colors as alerts
I am told over and over
Iraq is not Palestine
Kabul is not New York

The photos
Women Raped
Posed as girls gone wild
This is entertainment This is staged This is recorded
Men Chained
Do words such as humiliation and torture
Truly fit the immensity of these acts?
What happens to those who survive?
What happens to those responsible?

Haiti is not Chechnya
Chiapas is not East L.A.
Iraq is not Palestine
Over and over I am told

I am given a vantage point and a lens and instructed
Do not move Do not look up Do not look down

I am falling

No connections here
No illuminated parallels
Two different histories and two different peoples
Make no links
Do not confuse the issues

Only confuse the people

For 56 years Israel has legitimized
This type of behavior
Sanctioned violence in the name of a god
Who does not have enough love for us all
A god who chooses sides
A god who has favorites and chosen ones
A god who cuts deals and shuffles souls
The type of god who does not answer prayers
Who understands only one language
A god who does not worry his beautiful mind with
Such ugliness
I am told this is America’s god

The photos from Rafah Palestine
It is 1948 and 2004 in the same frame
Their eyes say to the camera
What will you do with this pain?
Where will you take it?
Can you take it from me?

This space between the lens and the subjects
Is concentrated with pleas for witness
With promises of cycles unbroken
With children’s bicycles under the rubble of once were homes

Another level of exile is being constructed

And I am falling

Aaagghh, ya Phalesteen
What is it about us they hate so much?
This face? These eyes? This obstinate refusal to die?
How much trauma can one nation endure with the world staring?
Some mouths open in shock
Others silent and sneering
While women scream at a frequency the living cannot hear
Again? Again ya Phalesteen?

How fucked up is it that I have to choose between ending
One occupation or another?
Partition my time and portion my information

I have to make Nice Play Fair and Polite
When I want to tear open my chest to void it of this emptiness
This ache has eaten into my head and wears down my dreams
My friends worry I am not eating enough
Am taking too much on Too much in
I find nowhere to rest this responsibility

If I say nothing I am complicit
If I say something I am isolated as extreme
As a theorist in conspiracy
As if war is ever a coincidence
As if genocide simply happens

This is about oil and land and water
This is about illusion and the taking on of airs
The poor once again the munitions in rich men’s cannons

This is about light and dark
There is no black and white in humanity

I am told
Venezuela is not Cuba
Rwanda is not Kurdistan

I am not the woman kneeling
In front of soldiers and their cameras and their weapons
I am not the child shot in the head by the Israeli Defense Forces
I am not the starving AIDS inflicted mother
Praying I live longer than my children
So they will not be orphaned and sick and have to bury me
I am not the child who watched
Her family chopped to death in Lebanon in Sudan in Nicaragua
I am not the father who leaves his children so as not to hear their
Bellies call out Baba, where is the bread?

I am the woman whose taxes outfitted this tragedy
The American the Authority does not speak for
The Arab the Arab leaders do not speak for
The woman whose shouts of Not in My Name
Were spit back at me as a slogan of the misguided at best
I am the girl from Brooklyn told to mind her business
I am the poet in search of new words
And a new world Not Mars

We use antiquated terms that cannot stretch enough to touch this truth
We have not learned from the past enough to not repeat it

I am told it has always been this way
War and Pillage
Rape is older than prostitution
And prostitution is the oldest politic
The way the world has always been
The pimps and those they pimp

The human race has always left
Those who fall behind

If I am to survive then
I learn from the present
From the future promised

We learn to live with madness
One cannot be healthy in a sick world
Only navigate illnesses Only medicate wounds
Pray you are not contagious
Try to hurt no one

My elders say dissent has always been watched
Radical ideas have always been recorded
But even those who have lived on the margins admit
Under breath It has never been this bad

Not everyone is suffering True
Most thirst
A few swim in pools that fake connection to seas
Most starve
I throw away meals I have no appetite for
You can shop from your couch and eat food fast
And never think about anything other than your credit card debt
And the next hour’s purchases
Shop and stop asking questions
I have envied this stupor
Even knowing it is the least honorable suicide
Even knowing its apathy is another kind of murder

Sometimes all you can do is inhale and exhale
Life a shallow version of its potential
Sometimes all you can do is search for life where you are
In the city A flash of yellow on the basketball court
The divine geometry in the pattern of a girl’s hijab

For a week I have been cleaning and knifing enough
Parsley for tabbouleh to feed hundreds
I pray over the green
That what I make will feed those in need of a meal

There is still love in us
The proof is that we are watching it die
There is still hope in us
Hope is there in my sisters’ eyes
There is still enough resistance in us
To create a world where there is no
Your people or my people
But our people
Our people who kill Our people who are killed

I somehow know love will save us
The proof is in the stories not broadcast
The poems not published
The truth between the lies
The stories whispered in the dusk of this day

I know somehow love will save us
Though I can’t find the passion or desire in my body to make it
There is still a source for peace deeply embedded in this chaos

I know love will save us
Though words fail to point out how

Amazingly I still pray
To a god I envision to be larger than any nation Any religion

And I still hunt for language to gather into a poem
That I pray will feed those like me
In need of proof they are not alone

Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian-American poet, author and political activist who was born on October 1973 in Amman, Jordan to Palestinian refugee parents and immigrated with her family to Brooklyn, New York City when she was five years old. Her parents later moved to Staten Island. SuheirHammad.com