Lament for Syria by Amineh Abou Kerech
Syrian doves croon above my head
their call cries in my eyes.
I’m trying to design a country
that will go with my poetry
and not get in the way when I’m thinking,
where soldiers don’t walk over my face.
I’m trying to design a country
which will be worthy of me if I’m ever a poet
and make allowances if I burst into tears.
I’m trying to design a City
of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,
free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.
Oh Syria, my love
I hear your moaning
in the cries of the doves.
I hear your screaming cry.
I left your land and merciful soil
And your fragrance of jasmine
My wing is broken like your wing.
I am from Syria
From a land where people pick up a discarded piece of bread
So that it does not get trampled on
From a place where a mother teaches her son not to step on an ant at the end of the day.
From a place where a teenager hides his cigarette from his old brother out of respect.
From a place where old ladies would water jasmine trees at dawn.
From the neighbours’ coffee in the morning
From: after you, aunt; as you wish, uncle; with pleasure, sister…
From a place which endured, which waited, which is still waiting for relief.
I will not write poetry for anyone else.
Can anyone teach me
how to make a homeland?
Heartfelt thanks if you can,
from the house-sparrows,
the apple-trees of Syria,
and yours very sincerely.
The stunning achievement of Amineh Abou Kerech and her poem, “Lament for Syria”, which recently won the Betjeman poetry prize, addresses us all through her poignant verse, as this young girl slips her arm through the reader’s, illuminating her longing for home through simple activities likesipping a coffee or watering jasmine trees.
Amineh enables her reader to share the plight of migrants who struggle across borders, carryingtheir entire life, livelihood and heritage in their bare hands, as just a few reach a safe but alien haven in the western world. Her delicately chosen images in this tour de force enables us tofeel her plight, as, broken-winged, she is tearfully transported from the crooning and screaming of doves and house-sparrows, leaving behind the apple trees and fragrance of jasmine,recalling her once peaceful life on Syria’s merciful soil,which is now desolated. What do we know of a countrywhere family members respect age as they defer to each other, where neighbours endure much, yet are still left awaiting relief? This slight young girl whoyears ago lost her home andwandered through many places, hasshoulderedthe gigantic task of re-designing her motherland Syria, so that we too mayshareits love,its peace and virtue. Whatever caused a country whereeven bread and antswere notleft underfoot to be crushed,to becomea place where soldiers trample over her face, bringing“mess, war, wreckage and misery”?
We may only stand amazed at this deceptively simple poem of a girl who a year ago knew no English, after wandering homeless for five years. These lines transport usback to her motherland, Syria,as she magnificently voicesher longing and nostalgia in a few craft fully assembled lines, and we are humbled.
Gillian M.E. Alban willingly transported her life to Turkey as a consequence of love; she lives and teaches English Literature in Istanbul. Her recent book, The Medusa Gaze in Contemporary Women’s Literature: Petrifying, Maternal and Redemptive(Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2017), illustrates the power of the female gazeto strengthen women, through a study of modern women writers. Her first book was Melusine the Serpent Goddess in A.S. Byatt’s Possession and in Mythology (Lanham Press 2003). She believes in the empowering force of literature and myth for women. Further information on her website: gillianmealban.com.