A few weeks ago, on Land Day—the anniversary of the 1976 general strike across Palestine to protest settler land theft—I heard Zaina Alsous speak at a tribute to the late Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. She quoted Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah, translated by Ahdaf Souief: “Writing is a displacement, a displacement from the normal social contract . . . If a person is touched by poetry or art or literature in general, his soul throngs with these displacements and cannot be cured by anything, not even the homeland.” These words come back to me as I read Alsous’s poem “The Workers Love Palestine.” If work is a linchpin of “the normal social contract,” then a strike, like a poem, might be a displacement from the ordinary directives of global capital, with its settler occupations of land and language. In Barghouti’s vision, freedom is not the end of all forms of displacement; rather, freedom learns from what displacement teaches about the unacceptable terms of the ordinary.
In Alsous’s poem, the declaration “I AM COMING” holds the echo of the exile’s call to return, even as it exceeds it. Return, the poem reminds me, is not the conservative delusion of reversal—that impossible thing, that narcotic cure—but the practice of making a world in which the conditions of the expulsion are unthinkable. Return is not the restoration of what was, but displacement from what is so something else might become. Return is: “WORKERS OF THE WORLD / JOIN THE STRIKE FOR GUARANTEED LIGHT.” In the poem’s final, struck-through line, even the language refuses, joins the strike.
– Claire Schwartz
The Workers Love Palestine
The week before the SUN announced hospice
my great-great-great-great-grandchild the harpist announced:
WORKERS OF THE WORLD
JOIN THE STRIKE FOR GUARANTEED LIGHT
The florists union in Caracas and the Algerian weavers presented joint proposals
TOWARD ILLUMINATION THAT MULTIPLIES
Bare hills, lakes of salt sutured dim ruins
of shipping yards and empires of memories of sarin
The children’s council listened in wreaths of yellow iris,
patterned leaves designating each role
Did you know that within attunement to effort
the end of monument resides?
Then the harpist, my progeny, that fate I had so long evaded—
debt I owe to demographic warfare
and names sliced open, reborn in disfigured repetition—
sang three hundred years of returning
Language is merely the placeholder
for what the LAND has always known
Species being is an observation of MOM (preface)
Absent the wet painting of a razed village (sold)
This land is land
Land is land
I AM COMING
Zaina Alsous is an abolitionist, and the author of A Theory of Birds.