International

The Last April And Winter In Gaza

Palestinian author and feminist organiser Farah Barqawi writes two poems for Outlook.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Last April

Last April we walked for a whole morning in Shejaiya

I was a tourist and you were the key to places

that had fallen out of memory, out of a lifetime.

We walked and took funny photos or rather sad ones

or maybe awkward ones

of a reality that could not hold both of us at a time
–
but we forced it to – 
at least for a whole morning in old town Gaza.

I, with my curly hair; you, with your grey niqab

a world of controversies was rediscovering the

hidden alleys, revealing itself to itself.

You wanted to take me to Hamam al-Sammara

I was naïvely shocked. I guess the
distance has made me ignorant, or maybe rigid. You lifted the
niqab away from your face. I was,
of course, shocked again.

We took a selfie like two school girls 

skipping math class 

attempting some freedom

in discovering their surroundings.

You showed me the old gate of the Omari mosque, 

your favorite mosque. Then you introduced me 

to the Knafeh maker. I became your foreigner friend 

visiting from another world. You wanted to play. 

You laughed at your own little lie. You wanted 
to relieve him of the puzzle of seeing us together,

such a mismatch.

In Souq Faras, you assured me I could take photos

of passing folks. It was Ramadan, they were 

shopping for Eid, shouting funny things to their kids.

We were saying funny things too, and you took 

a video of me walking among carts full of fresh mint, 

rocca, and radishes. You made me take a close 

look at the pickles shop. I was your tourist cousin, 

your unborn daughter, your lost friend.

You tried a dress on. It had the color of red wine, 

and you don’t drink wine, but Arabic forces you to use

its name this way. I told you
it fit you well. You bought that dress for Eid.

The walk ended shortly by the sea. The heat made 

you tired, but we had to see the port, the only thing

resembling a free exit, despite both of us 

knowing it was never one.

The sea in Gaza throws many desires in us, but

could simply eat us if we try to follow them.

The walk ended too soon, my love. You were fasting

and you got tired. You asked me again if it was

okay to desire a daughter after three boys. I said

yes, but I feared for her and you in my heart.

The trip ended too soon, my Doa’a. The taxi driver 

dropped you off before me. Then there was curfew,

then I had to catch a flight, then there was war,

there was your building with an old structure,

there were many Israeli bombs diving down

in the belly of your street.

There was your unworn Eid dress, your unborn

daughter, your ungrown boys, and your untold

stories about Gaza. They were all there with you

as you heard the last noises from what you
thought was afar, until it was close, and you walked

alone this time to the open sea of Gaza. With no

face covers, with no annoying strangers, with no

need for little lies nor an understanding of
controversies.

The walk ended too soon while I wait here for 
another touristic excursion with you in the streets 
you loved. The streets that carry you in their belly.

The Last Winter

Last winter, Zaid had a lot of questions 
about snow. He was watching cartoons and dreaming
about the white flakes falling on the other side of the screen,
landing on Sally’s hat, coat, and shoes in his favorite show. 
His mother said she too had never seen snow 
but that I had, so he could ask me, and I would know. 
I was in one of those snow lands, and lucky for him, it had snowed 
that week. I called and showed them the snow on camera. 
I walked around, imagining my body was Zaid’s body. 
I promised him that one day, when he was older, he would visit. 
That he would see and touch the snow and walk on icy 
surfaces, but meanwhile, I would carve his name
with my freezing finger on the white froth covering the cars.
My promise became a movie I enacted with a score
and visual effects each time I stepped out into snowy days. 
That would be his last winter. I met Zaid in Gaza's last spring.
I looked into his curious eyes, and repeated my promise 
before I left. He will visit one day, I promised us both.
But then came May. Its war 
visited him before he could grow.
I wonder if Zaid thought of snow when the heat
of a fresh explosion touched his body below the rubbles.
I know where Zaid’s body went. I was told he was buried
in one grave with Adam, his younger brother. 
What I don’t know is where that snowy promise should go.

Farah Barqawi is a Palestinian author, performer, and a feminist organiser. Her poetry and essays have appeared in multiple languages on online platforms and in multiple anthologies, such as 'Ce que la Palestine apporte au monde' (IMA, France, 2023) and 'We Wrote in Symbols' (Saqi Books, UK, 2021). In 2019, She produced and hosted a season of the Arabic podcast Eib (Shame). She wrote and performed her solo piece, “Baba, Come to Me” (2018-2020). She holds an MFA in nonfiction creative writing from New York University (Fall 2023).

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