‘We never left’ – A poem by Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa

Internationally renowned and award-winning Palestinian author and poet, Susan Abulhawa, opened the historic Palestine Writes Literature Festival in Philadelphia, Sept. 22-24, with this poem written in May 2022.

No matter what you ask
Because we are the people of the land.
Because we are the keepers of her stories
passed down to us from the olive trees
Because her rivers run through our bodies
  and our grandmothers embroidered her landscape
  on our skin since ten thousand years
Because we saddled her first horses
we sang her first ballads and
we harvested her wheat with love
no matter who held guns over us
Because our poetry watered her gardens
since before she was Canaan
Because we danced when she married the Mediterranean Sea
and we made her wedding cake a tray of
kanafe from Nablus
Because we were always there.
We are the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims
we lived converted between religions
settled from pilgrims left and returned
mixed with our conquerors
died by their swords and
    nourished her soil with our bodies.
But we never left.
But we never left.
But we never left.
When Henry VIII sent Anne Boleyn to the tower
we were in Palestine.
When Marie Antoinette was marched to the guillotine
we were in Palestine.
When Galileo gazed at the heavens
we were in Palestine.
When Columbus got lost, pillaged, and raped where he landed
we were in Palestine.
When Queen Nzinga ruled the kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba
When Genghis Khan broke through China’s great wall
When the suffragettes marched
When all of your history
it was us who were there.
Not in Europe or Russia or Poland or
Brooklyn or Yemen or
Iran or Iraq
but in Palestine
continuously for millennia.
Because we created her dances
we terraced all her hills and
nestled our homes in her grooves,
Because we slept, ate, gave birth
married, loved, aged, and died in her arms
since time was fitted for a calendar.
Because now she’s under a foreigner’s boot
her curves decapitated by urban planners
her trees cut and burned by their hate
her body scarred and siphoned dry
her pomegranate owned and caged
her zatar buried in concrete and
her wild tumultuous history
    violently stuffed into a plastic box
      branded with a new name and an epic myth.
They’ve killed her birds,
taken our hummus and falafel hostage in a museum
they built over the graves of our ancestors.
But we know and
  only we can tell her native stories,
  sing her native songs and
  dance for her a promise from her children
determined to make their way back
to the embrace of her sun-kissed hills and
  her orange and olive groves
to revive her desiccated rivers
  that they might again roar with life
as they did when our family
  was whole on her banks.
We will
  always write our love letters to her
  always sing and paint and sew and
  cook her favorite foods
  and think and fight and cry and plant
  and harvest and celebrate for her
  our Palestine.
We lean on each other
  we count on our friends and
  repudiate to the normalizers of our oppression.
We persist.
We exist.
We are one nation
  one history
  one heritage
  one people
  determined and destined to go home.


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