THE DAMASCUS MEMOIRS — RASHID HUSSEIN



Born in 1936 in the small town of Musmus outside of Haifa and buried 41 years later in that same town, Rashid Hussein was one of the pioneers of Palestinian literature. Though buried in his homeland he died in New York City, where he had ended up after stints across the Arab world including Beirut and Damascus. 

Eqbal Ahmad wrote that Hussein lived in New York as if it were a Palestinian town. He served as the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s cultural attache at the United Nations. Ahmad said that Hussein lived against the odds of his environment—too indulgent—too altruistic. Hussein’s life and work deserves far more attention that it has received and his poetic and prose writing in Arabic and Hebrew ought to be translated in greater numbers.  

Below are three poems published in the May 1974 issue of Arab Palestinian Resistance, the magazine of Information Department of the Palestine Liberation Army.   

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Last October, when Israel launched numerous air raids on Damascus, Rashid Hussein, “the pioneer of Palestinian resistance poetry” was in the Syrian capital. As he watched the courageous behavior of the people of Damascus in facing the Israeli aggression, he wrote daily memoirs in Arabic poetry. Excerpts of these poetic impressions are given below. The first of the following three poems from The Damascus Memoirs, was translated into English by the author; the second, “Children of Roses,” and the third, “Letter to Richard Nixon,” were translated by Mrs. Randa Khalidi.  

(1) From The Damascus Memoirs 
 
The greatest of the great loves 
Was this morning in Damascus. 
He walked through the market,  
Bought a rose for a child, 
A candle for a raided house, 
And blessed the wedding that Damascus lived. 
And when evening came, 
The Great Love spent the night in Damascus. 
Damascus is calling, 
Damascus is calling, 
Planes are dancing, murdering, falling. 
All the fire of the earth became a wedding ring 
Around the finger of love I call “Damascus”. 
Her is all the love on earth 
Here are all the fires 
Here are all the wounds wedded to fighters 
Damascus is calling, 
Fire is calling, 
Love is calling from Damascus. 
Oh you who plant stars and wounds in Sinai 
and the Golan Heights, 
With your blood and love our people are restored 
Here Palestine is calling, 
Here Egypt is calling, 
Love is calling you, 
Fire is calling you, 
Damascus is calling you. 

(2) Children and Roses 

They are trying to kill sleep 
In the eyes of the children of Damascus. 
They are trying, let them try. 
They are trying to kill what the youngest child in Damascus 
Has slain long ago. 
They are trying to kill roses in Damascus, 
Let them kill them —  
We can live without roses. 
When old and young are martyred in our country. 
The soil will accept them without rosy wreaths. 
Let them try to kill the roses in Damascus, 
But the roses go wounded 
But the people will remain. 
Oh most beautiful roses of Damascus. 
The fake representatives of the arts 
In New York, 
In Paris, 
In Rome — 
Weep, dance and drink 
To buy a plane 
To kill a child 
And the jasmine youth of Damascus. 
Simone de Beauvoir says that the return of a refugee 
To his home is not liberation. 
Elizabeth Taylor and the last of the divorced wives in Iran 
Have decided that love of country is an aggression 
Oh god, do these represent the arts? 
Do they represent love and literature? 
If those are our enemies; 
Multiply them, God, Multiply them. 

(3) Letter to Richard Nixon 

Mr. Nixon 
Watergate Street 
Washington, Israel 
From my refugee room in Damascus I address you. 
You have sent all you want in Napalm 
But — and thanks for the present – it did not fall in pieces; 
It tore the face of child, destroyed a hospital and the heart of a grandmother 
It kissed a resisting rose. Your Napalm died. 
Mr. Nixon, despite all the Napalm you have sent 
The doves have not flown away from the rooms of resisters in Damascus 
Our doves stayed 
Despite your planes 
Our arms have remained despite your planes 
All our fields are here, all our roses, our stars, 
All our doves are here 
They stayed despite your planes. 
Mr. Nixon 
In our banks we have peace in thousands 
We will send you none 
You wanted war, let it be war, we return it you you 
How did you kill all the poets in your country? 
How did you kill love in your country? 
How did you send fire to kill roses and children in Damascus? 
We are not here a God called Jesus for you to assassinate 
As you wish, crucify as you wish 
We are Jesus rejecting crucifixion, demanding to return 
To the mountains of Nazareth 
We, candidates for crucifixion 
Will not allow you this pleasure
We remain and resist in Damascus 
We remain and resist in Damascus 
 


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