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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 reversalthat impossible thing, that narcotic curebut 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

Listen to Zaina Alsous read “The Workers Love Palestine.”

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
shadowless
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
                                       LAND LAND


I AM COMING
HOME


Zaina Alsous is an abolitionist, and the author of A Theory of Birds.