UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

On the brink of... by Suheir Hammad

Written 20 March 2003 in tribute to Rachel Corrie
On the brink of
tears, sanity and war,
I feel powerless, hope
less and less than alive.

What do we tell young
people? How do we say, "...your
voice means nothing to those
who think life is about power
over others and greed?" And where
is it safe to think for yourself and try
real hard to not want to hurt nobody?
I don't want to hurt nobody, God knows.

In Iraq, children are looking towards
the night sky with fear, as though
there were no stars, only bombs in the cosmos.
And they are afraid of the earth because
they can count the cancers in their
hoods now, where once there were none.

And how do I tell American youth
that popular culture means nothing to
justice and everything to keeping them
numb to the world? And how do I
scream when I have no voice left?
And who will answer these questions for me?

Not Rachel Corrie. She is dead.
And no matter what any army says,
I have seen the photos
and that woman was wearing orange,
bright and alive one minute and dying
under rubble the next. Even I, it seems, have
developed a callousness to the deaths of
Palestinians, because the murder of this white
girl from Olympia, Washington has
my heart breaking and my blood faint.

Something like ten Palestinians have been killed since
yesterday, when a Caterpillar bulldozer driven
by a man demolished the home that was her body.

If anyone knows her family, please relay
to them my grief and my sorrow.

You can still find her phone number
on the Internet for meetings and organizing. You
can still read her accounts of being in Palestine.
She was a good writer.

There are people who are writing,
"She should not have been there in the first place"
Now she is dead.
"Good riddance"
Now she is dead.
"Treasonous bitch"
Now she is dead.

What do I tell young people about non-violence when they can see
for themselves
how even orange bright and megaphone loud
and cameras and US citizenship will
not stop your murder?

I recall the days black boys were lynched
and dismembered for looking at white women,
now tax dollars are crushing dissent
wherever it blooms.

Human shields for human targets.
There are words I am taking back. I reclaim them
and will no longer allow anyone to dictate my language.
There is no "right wing" a wing is of nature, and murder
may be human, but it is not natural,
even if animals eat each other,
is that what we are then, animals?
If so, claim it, motherfucker.

There is no "mother of all bombs".
Blair, Sharon, Bush, all have
mothers and no matter what they do, there is
something they love.
White power, oil, the need to be God's
only chosen, whatever, but they love something, because
their mothers loved them.
A bomb loves nothing, has no mother and
is not about life.

There is no mother of all bombs,
only more mankind self-destruction.
There is no safety in being a bully. I know
because I have been bullied and I know now,
with my first grey hair and all, that authentic
power is not about others but about self.

This is not a poem. This is not a threat.
This is a promise.
God has a better imagination
than all of us combined and I do not
know what form retribution will take, but
I have seen karma happen and it will
again, and when it does I will chant
the names of the innocent and I will stand
with those who have kept their hands clean of blood
and their hearts clear of hate.

It is hard not to hate right now. But I
have been loved, I have loved and I know
that those who de-humanize their enemy are
only doing so to themselves.
Peace work is justice work is God's work.
Rachel Corrie wrote,

"Nevertheless, I think about the fact that no
amount of reading, attendance at conferences,
documentary viewing and word of mouth could have
prepared me for the reality of the situation here.
You just can't imagine it unless you see it, and even
then you are always well aware that your experience
is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the
Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed US
citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water
when the army destroys wells, and, of course, the fact
that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family
has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher
from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown.
I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean."

She is dead now. And the ocean
will miss her gaze. Palestine will miss
her heart, but mostly her family will
miss her breath.

And the president of the United States of America
(when did that happen again?) has all
but declared war on Iraq, and so more deaths are

What do I tell young people about any thing?
Especially humanity and morality.
Slightly a month before her murder Rachel wrote home,

"Many people want their voices to be heard, and I
think we need to use some of our privilege as
internationals to get those voices heard directly in
the US, rather than through the filter of well-meaning
internationals such as myself. I am just beginning to
learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutelage,
about the ability of people to organize against all odds,
and to resist against all odds."

More words I reclaim: Hero, Brave, Soldier.
This young woman did the un-thinkable,
she did not blink, did not half-step, did not back
down in the face of death. What greater odds than
one lone female frame against a destructive
What greater story to tell?

On the brink of war, may our power
come from the people Rachel Corrie was murdered
defending. On the brink of war, may our hope
come from one another. On the
brink of -- wait -- this is not a war.
On the brink of whatever new-fangled
imperialist project this is, may Rachel Corrie
live in our resistance, in our pursuit
of justice, and in the spirit of sisterhood.
On the brink of war, may we remember how divine
human beings can be.

Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian-American poet living in New York City.