This poem, the first reading at the Hands Up flagship carol service, is by Nizar Qabbani, a Syrian diplomat and poet, born in Damascus in 1928. Qabbani moved abroad after attaining his law degree from the University of Damascus, working for the Syrian foreign office. Five of the letters he wrote to his mother back in Syria are collected here.
At St Margaret’s, they opened the service, read to the congregation by the actress Julie Christie. As Qabbani is remembered as a particularly progressive and feminist poetic voice, having Julie read the letters he wrote to his mother was a really lovely way to kick off proceedings.
Five Letters To My Mother (An extract)
By Nizar Qabbani
Good morning sweetheart.
Good morning my Saint of a sweetheart.
It has been two years mother since the boy has sailed
on his mythical journey.
Since he hid within his luggage
the green morning of his homeland
and her stars, and her streams,
and all of her red poppies.
Since he hid in his clothes
bunches of mint and thyme,
and a Damascene Lilac.
I send my best regards
to a house that taught us love and mercy.
To your white flowers,
the best in the neighbourhood.
To my bed, to my books,
to all of the kids in the alley.
To all of these walls we covered
with noise from our writings.
To the lazy cat sleeping on the balcony.
To the lilac bush climbing the neighbour’s window.
It has been two long years, Mother,
with the face of Damascus being like a bird,
digging within my conscience,
biting at my curtains,
and picking, with a gentle beak, at my fingers.
It has been two years Mother,
since the nights of Damascus,
the odours of Damascus,
the houses of Damascus,
have been inhabiting our imagination.
The pillar lights of her mosques,
Ring out, As if the pillars of the Amawi,
have been planted in our hearts.
As if the orchards are still perfuming our conscience.
As if the lights and the rocks,
have all travelled with us.
This is September, Mother,
and here is sorrow bringing me his wrapped gifts.
Leaving at my window his tears and his concerns.
This is September, where is Damascus?
Where is Father and his eyes.
Where is the silk of his glances,
and where is the aroma of his coffee.
May God bless his grave.
And where is the vastness of our large house,
and where is its comfort.
And where is the stairwell laughing at the tickles of blooms,
and where is my childhood.
Draggling the tail of the cat,
and eating from the grape vine,
and snipping from the lilac.
what a poem we wrote within our eyes.
What a pretty child that we crucified.
We kneeled at her feet,
and we melted in her passion,
until, we killed her with love.