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June 2005

The Road To Damascus


Syria today is better known for its poet in exile, Adonis-often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize-than for its writers in residence. Yet it is home to one of the oldest and most complex artistic cultures in the Middle East, persisting in heroic fashion, even under dictatorship. In "The Lanterns of Seville," Abd el-Salam al-Ujayli spins a dazzling tale of a search for the lost richness of Arabic culture in Spain. In "Darkness" and "Ahem," Ibrâhim Samûel illuminates the most repressive corners of a world without any such lanterns. In Haifa' Bitar's "Fatima" and Hasiba Abd al-Rahman's "First Breaths of Freedom," two powerful women writers explore the response of strong women characters to poverty and injustice. Dissident Faraj Bayraqdar is the third of our featured writers to address the experience of prison, in three poems written during his own confinement for political activism. And classic poet Nizar Qabbani leaves another light burning, in his lyric meditation on a more romantic Damascus of memory.

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The Lanterns of Seville

To Julienne Peters of Brussels, who was moved to tears by the beauty of the Alcazar in the Seville of the Arabs, I dedicate these lanterns. "Would you look down on a cousin of yours if he


The remarkable thing didn't happen within the half hour the audience spent waiting for the show to begin but, rather, in that short fleeting rupture of time during the show itself.


It wasn't his cough reaching me from the inner cells across the dark, narrow hall that struck my interest more than the slamming of a door or the resonating ring of a pot falling on the


Fatima did not capture my attention simply because she was a beggar-child. Alas, I was rather accustomed, in spite of myself, to the sight of children begging, pestering passersby in

The First Breaths of Freedom

Haven't you missed the sun and rain and streets? During those long nights, didn't you dream of these paths as you were eating ful and smoking? And how often did you torture


Your cooing wears me out at night— so wear me out. Like wine in the odes, you go on cooing and leave me what moves horses to tears, what weighs birds down with more wings, what singing


Stop, and weep Not sadness over the corpse of the remnants of a cursed god and so not a sadness over a bird burdened with open

Ode of Sorrow

  The blue of depth is sadness and the depth of blue-sadness and a star quivering tears in this space- Language at the peak of clarity unfurls the


Barada, oh father of all rivers Oh, horse that races the days Be, in our sad history, a prophet Who receives inspiration from his lord Millions acknowledge you as an Arab Prince . . .

Damascus, What Are You Doing to Me?

1 My voice rings out, this time, from Damascus It rings out from the house of my mother and father In Sham. The geography of my body changes. The cells of my blood become green. My


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