I Was Born Today — A Poem by Abdulla Moaswes

May 15, 2021

Abdulla Moaswes is originally from Jerusalem, Palestine. On a day such as this he presents a poem of remembrance against forgetting that returns to the days of his grandfather through a narration binding the dispossession and grief of one generation to another. The scholar and poet is inspired by Edward Said’s 1984 essay “Permission to Narrate” (published in The London Review of Books), where Said addresses the silencing and invisibilization that Palestinians faced in the international media while Zionists tirelessly propagated the myth of an Eden-like homeland—one that, according to them, was barren of inhabitants (conveniently made into ghosts) yet paradisiacal enough for an indefinite and still ongoing occupation. Beyond the need for an introduction, Abdulla’s poem speaks for itself, as his verses transit through time like remembrance transits through forgetting to keep memories alive, deep within the terrain of narration.

I was born today  
That’s not to say that it’s my birthday on the 15th of May  
But figuratively speaking, or rather, speaking figuratively  
Since when do Palestinians speak literally?  
It’s not a matter of speaking in metaphors and similes  
To them, we’re silent. We aren’t speaking. Literally.   

—  

Today, my friend asked me to speak, to narrate  
So I narrated, but I did not speak  
Many a pretentious scholar hath written of apparition  
And never one to vindicate verbose Frenchmen  
But when I narrate memories I do not own, is the speaker not an apparition?  
What condition is to be diagnosed when my mind plays host   
To the tongue of a ghost?  

Man created man, so can a state not create a state?  
But I ask myself, was it the state of a ghostly people that created this state  
Or was it the state built on the bodies of ghosts that created my state?  
My state of silence, of narrating   
Without speaking a word  

Who am I to speak when I host the ghosts of Deir Yassin?  
I have not seen the scenes that they’ve seen  
But they’ve seen their scenes in the scenes that I have seen  
Lost among the words? That could be where I’ve been  

I dare not speak, literally, for I do know which words speak, literally  
Does not having a home make me a refugee?  
Or does it simply render me an EDP?  
Externally displaced   
Never subject to a state  

In years past I’ve related  
To anger, happiness, sorrow, and hate  
But I’ve never really related to a state  
And perhaps that is why I do not speak literally  
I prefer to narrate  

Once upon a time, my grandfather spoke  
He spoke of spooks that attempted to speak to a speck of land  
He spoke of spooks that spoke in tongues that were buried in sand  
He spoke, literally, of that which he lost despite it being right in his hand  
Literally  
  
He had no romantic narration of a lost key or deed  
He spoke literally of heinous deeds that lost his literal key  
The deeds committed by those that wanted the key, literally  
And as my grandfather spoke literally, I could see!  
I could see the scenes that he’s seen in Yaffa, Al Quds, and even Hittin  
And I remembered: That’s where I’ve been!  

I was not simply born today  
Nor did I die today  
Nor is my birthday the 15th of May  
But today, my existence began to state worlds  
But not worlds within any imaginary state  
Nor states based on simply spoken words  

Nakba, refugee, catastrophe, literally  
I need not speak to create honest imagery  
All I need to do is narrate on behalf of those that spoke before  
Why speak when I don’t need permission to narrate anymore?  

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About the Contributor

Abdulla Moaswes is a researcher and educator originally from Jerusalem, Palestine. His primary area of research is on (settler-)colonialism and global capitalism, with a focus on the colonisation of Kashmir and Palestine. In addition to this, Abdulla has written about the politics of internet memes, chai and cultural production, and is interested more generally in ideas of resistance, liberation, decoloniality and decolonisation. He is also the world’s only Palestinian cricket fan and an avid reader of Urdu and Arabic poetry. His writings on various topics have appeared in +972 Magazine, LobeLog, The New Arab, Express Tribune and the South China Morning Post. He is a graduate of the University of Exeter and the School of Oriental and African Studies.