Poetry: "On Refuge and Language" and "What I Will"

Suheir Hammad
Date Published: 
June 1, 2006

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Suheir Hammad

On Refuge and Language

I do not wish To place words in living mouths Or bury the dead dishonorably

I am not deaf to cries escaping shelters That citizens are not
refugees Refugees are not Americans

I will not use language One way or another To accommodate my comfort

I will not look away

All I know is this

No peoples ever choose to claim status of dispossessed No peoples want pity above compassion No enslaved peoples ever called themselves slaves

What do we pledge allegiance to?

A government that leaves its old To die of thirst surrounded by water Is a
foreign government

People who are streaming Illiterate into paperwork Have long ago been abandoned

I think of coded language And all that words carry on their backs

I think of how it is always the poor Who are tagged and boxed with labels Not of their own choosing

I think of my grandparents And how some called them refugees Others called them nonexistent They called themselves landless Which means homeless Before the hurricane No tents were prepared for the fleeing Because Americans do not live in tents Tents are for Haiti for Bosnia for Rwanda

Refugees are the rest of the world

Those left to defend their human decency Against conditions the rich keep their animals from Those who have too many children Those who always have open hands and empty bellies Those whose numbers are massive Those who seek refuge From nature’s currents and man’s resources

Those who are forgotten in the mean times

Those who remember

Ahmad from Guinea makes my falafel sandwich and says So this is your country

Yes Amadou this my country And these my people

Evacuated as if criminal Rescued by neighbors Shot by soldiers

Adamant they belong

The rest of the world can now see What I have seen

Do not look away

The rest of the world lives here, too
In America

What I Will

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. I know
intimately that skin
you are hitting. It
was alive once
and hunted stolen
stretched. I will
not dance to your drummedup
war. I will not pop
spin break for you. I
will not hate for you or
even hate you. I will
not kill for you. Especially
I will not die
for you. I will not mourn
the dead with murder nor
suicide. I will not side
with you or dance to bombs
because everyone else is
dancing. Everyone can be
wrong. Life is a right not
collateral or casual. I
will not forget where
I come from. I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near, and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
or my rhythm to your
beat. I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This
heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

Suheir Hammad was born in Amman, Jordan, to Palestinian refugee parents. Her family immigrated to Brooklyn, New York when she was 5 years old. Hammad’s books include Born Palestinian, Born Black, Drops of This Story (published by Harlem River Press) and ZaatarDiva (published by Cypher Books). Hammad is the recipient of the Audre Lorde Poetry Award and a Sister of Fire Award and a cowriter and original cast member of “Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.” Her Web site is http://www.suheirhammad.com.