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I am you

on 21 Comments

Two steps: one, two.
‏Look in the mirror:
‏The horror, the horror!
‏The butt of your M-16 on my cheekbone
‏The yellow patch it left
‏The bullet-shaped scar expanding
‏Like a swastika,
‏Snaking across my face,
‏The heartache flowing
‏Out of my eyes dripping
‏Out of my nostrils piercing
‏My ears flooding
‏The place.
‏Like it did to you
‏70 years ago
‏Or so.

‏I am just you.
‏I am your past haunting
‏Your present and your future.
‏I strive like you did.
‏I fight like you did.
‏I resist like you resisted
‏And for a moment,
‏I’d take your tenacity
‏As a model,
‏Were you not holding
‏The barrel of the gun
‏Between my bleeding

One. Two.
‏The very same gun
‏The very same bullet
‏That had killed your Mom
‏ And killed your Dad
‏Is being used,
‏Against me,
‏By you.

‏Mark this bullet and mark in your gun.
‏If you sniff it, it has your and my blood.
‏It has my present and your past.
‏It has my present.
‏It has your future.
‏That’s why we are twins,
‏Same life track
‏Same weapon
‏Same suffering
‏Same facial expressions drawn
‏On the face of the killer,
‏Same everything
‏Except that in your case
‏The victim has evolved, backward,
‏Into a victimizer.
‏I tell you.
‏I am you.
‏Except that I am not the you of now.

‏I do not hate you.
‏I want to help you stop hating
‏And killing me.
‏I tell you:
‏The noise of your machine gun
‏Renders you deaf
‏The smell of the powder
‏Beats that of my blood.
‏The sparks disfigure
‏My facial expressions.
‏Would you stop shooting?
‏For a moment?
‏Would you?

‏All you have to do
‏Is close your eyes
‏(Seeing these days
‏Blinds our hearts.)
‏Close your eyes, tightly
‏So that you can see
‏In your mind’s eye.
‏Then look into the mirror.
‏One. Two.
‏I am you.
‏I am your past.
‏And killing me,
‏You kill you.

Refaat Alareer
About Refaat Alareer

Refaat Alareer is a young academic and writer from Gaza who blogs at You can follow him on twitter at @ThisisGaza.

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21 Responses

  1. Sarahmali
    Sarahmali on October 31, 2012, 11:41 am

    This is so deep. So deep.

    I wish some Israeli soldier would read this poem and feel the same way I did.

    • Mooser
      Mooser on October 31, 2012, 12:53 pm

      Well, there are several commenters at Mondoweiss who claim to be IDF soldiers, maybe they will comment and give their reactions.

  2. LeaNder
    LeaNder on October 31, 2012, 12:45 pm

    You are me, thank you, Refaat, very, very good.

  3. seafoid
    seafoid on October 31, 2012, 12:53 pm

    Great stuff

    “‏Would you stop shooting?
    ‏For a moment?
    ‏Would you?”

    It would probably all fall apart .
    the machine is so fragile.

  4. Waleed Meadana
    Waleed Meadana on October 31, 2012, 2:50 pm

    Refaat is a solid talent. Keep writing please.

  5. ritzl
    ritzl on October 31, 2012, 2:55 pm

    Agonizing to read.

    Even more agonizing to contemplate the fatalism in the eyes of your audience.

  6. just
    just on October 31, 2012, 8:39 pm

    Refaat- thank you.

    You have captured with your words, rhythm, and cadence the very essence of the horrific situation as it was and as it is. The irony, the hypocrisy, the pain, and the stifling of hope. It’s visual, sensory, emotional and honest.

    Thank you. I very much look forward to sharing this.

    (now I’ll go wipe away my tears.)

  7. gamal
    gamal on October 31, 2012, 8:57 pm

    wow! I am you is a very profound thing to say, what a brilliant piece.

    everyone is just another you, this is part of a formal Vajrayana compassion meditation, seeing others as just another you, Tong Len practice.

    Pema Chodron explains

    • annie
      annie on November 1, 2012, 10:30 am

      i agree it is brilliant gamal. so much so it leaves me feeling unworthy to even know how to approach making a statement about it.

      so instead i will tell you how it made me feel when i first read it months ago when the author was not ready to release it. one imagines the feelings of birthing a masterpiece like this, merely finding the expression to put words on paper, is secondary to conceptualizing. and the conceptualizing, in the case of this poem, could only have been written by a palestinian who has lived thru, and continues to live thru, the nakba. who has lived this and knows it from the inside of his bones.

      it’s not like hollywood where we imagine what it’s like. so….it hit me like a sledgehammer. i knew immediately what i was reading.

      it involves the evolution of genocide. more later.

      • gamal
        gamal on November 2, 2012, 10:23 am

        i love the arrhythmic heart beat of it cadences, its utterly simple Humanity, how the author has slyly but throughly put the whole basis of nationing/othering/niggering/dominating to the sword, by exposing its self defeating cycles of assertion self pity and occlusion only a brave writer a heroic person could produce such piece, its a tremendous inspiration, the product of a very fine poetic sensibility.

        “all you have to do is close your eyes”

  8. MHughes976
    MHughes976 on November 1, 2012, 9:57 am

    A lovely poem. Does the identity of I and You work the other way round, though? Can I escape taking into My inner being some of the fear, arrogance and violent sentiments being expressed by You?

    • just
      just on November 1, 2012, 7:25 pm

      I think that depends on you and your own conscience.

  9. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield on November 1, 2012, 1:12 pm

    I was also very moved. Then I did a little arithmetic.

    The soldier’s parents were killed by the Nazis but he himself survived. Perhaps his parents handed him to Gentile friends as a baby, later he ends up in Israel. This means he was born in 1944 at the latest. He is now 68, too old even for reserve duty.

    The poet could change mum and dad to grandma and grandpa. His parents escaped Europe as youngsters, in 1938 say, but were unable to take their parents. Suppose he was a late child, his mother bore him in her late thirties, in 1958. Today he is 54. Reservists are required to serve in the IDF only up to the age of 45, but they can volunteer after this age. So this version is still possible, but only just.

    The Holocaust was a long time ago.

    Consider what implications this has for the poet’s moving message.

    • annie
      annie on November 1, 2012, 1:53 pm

      stephen, try reading it again but instead of a man speaking to a soldier imagine “I” is the voice of a people, the voice of palestine. imagine his ‘face’ as the land. note the reference and placement of ‘expanding’ and ‘the place’ in the text.

    • gamal
      gamal on November 2, 2012, 10:13 am

      “Consider what implications this has for the poet’s moving message.”

      Stephen dear boy, you are perhaps using a quantitative approach where a qualitative one may render more rewarding results.

      condsider the immortal lines of Darwish, written about, and i think at the time of, Sabra and Chatilla
      Earth Presses Against Us by Mahmoud Darwish

      Earth is pressing against us, trapping us in the final passage
      To pass through we pull off our limbs
      Earth is squeezing us. If only we were wheat, we might die yet live
      If only it were our mother so she might temper us with mercy
      If only we were pictures of rocks held in our dreams like mirrors
      We glimpse faces in their final battle for the soul, of those who will be killed
      by the last living among us. We mourn their children’s feast.
      We saw faces of those who would throw our children out of the windows
      of this last space. A star to burnish our mirrors.
      Where should we go after the last border? Where should birds fly after the last sky?
      Where should plants sleep after the last breath of air?
      We write our names with crimson mist!
      We end the hymn with our flesh
      Here we will die. Here, in the final passage.
      Here or there, our blood will plant olive trees.

      blood doesnt plant olives does that temper the impact of the piece, nor does anyone expel birds from skies, what was Darwish thinking.

      you could try reading some Gerald Vizenor say the Trickster of Liberty or Emile Habiby’s very famous Secret life of Saeed, no counting needed, if you are having trouble engaging with this white hot limpid
      piece, it would warm you up, as from such things a new scripture may evolve which may be some use to the new worlds emerging, counting Methesulah’s years is not a useful way to approach the old ones we still consult.

      and that other thread is dead but really Hitchens, old thing you gotta be kidding. even Said Arjuman is garbage when it comes to early Islamic History, but at least he is not a pig ignorant yahoo, like the late Hitchens and can be very interesting in a kind of Weberian way about some modern Iranian developments.

  10. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield on November 2, 2012, 7:43 pm

    Yes, I’ve read Habiby’s novel and some of Darwish’s poetry. This poem is very eloquent (and very resonant with the Jewish past). I realize that this poem, like others, can be read at several different levels (thanks Annie for drawing my attention to one of them) but the surface level too is not to be disdained — the level at which the poet appeals to the soldier. And my arithmetic is relevant here because it shows why, very unfortunately, this appeal has lost much of its effectiveness.

    I have not been in a very favorable position to learn about Islam, so please be patient. I did read Maxime Rodinson’s biography of the Prophet. What do you think of him? I’ve ordered Mark Sedgwick’s book on Abduh (as a starter) and will check out Vizenor.

    • gamal
      gamal on November 3, 2012, 9:50 pm

      dear Stephen just to be clear it is worth mentioning that we Muslims in some ways lead the world in hubris and inhumanity, but that is not because of Islam, and i get what you are saying kind of i think, not sure to be honest. it is quite likely that because of my perspective i accord less importance to logic and “reason” that perhaps i should to be a worthwhile interlocutor, i don’t know.

      You know Suzuki Roshi’s famous statement, “Best mind beginners mind, because in the beginners mind are many possibilities in the experts few”.
      So when learning about Islam, what is it that one is learning? The subject is so huge a vast literature and an extensive history, it is the traditionist ideology of Islam that was largely destroyed by the impact colonialism, at one level, though it persists in the general piety of the people.

      Ii is a mistake, i think to regard Islam as purely an offshoot of Christianity and Judaism (and Zoroastrianism etc) Islam is also an eastern religion. Let me briefly explain what i mean, one of the first, if not the first, Eastern Guru’s to teach in the west was Inayat Khan, what he taught is no less “Islam” than the dry musings of a Bin Baz.
      Islam as i used to “joke” is a system of spiritual larceny, deeply influenced by Buddhism, Christian Gnosticism and Jewish Kabalism, when people learn about Islam sadly many of them end up speaking as if they were Scholars, I have been told about Islam by quite a few 1st year undergraduates, who having completed a one term module in Islamic studies regale me with all sorts of hard and fast facts about it, how to interpret the Quran, apparently it contains both allegorical and explicit material, who would have thought so? (it is all allegory in the sense that even explicit statements have to be interpreted, obviously, and in that lies all the tremendous possibilities and of course dangers) a shallow reading of the Quran, something that we Muslims engage in a great deal is, a waste of time, and unlikely to provide any grounds for compassionate or positive thought. I am perhaps only able to share my own confusion, what can i say within that confusion however is an ever present possibility of “Universal Mercifying” (Ibni Arabi “God has made me Absolutely Compassionate, A universal Mercifier”).

      People when they study Islam for purpose of finding out what it is and just how good or bad it is rarely read deeply or extensively.
      so let me now having as usual digressed try to draw all this together with Refaats poem. As you look so shall you see. There can be no clear distinctions between self and other, our sense of separateness and distance from the objects and others we experience is on consideration illusory, we are each other as much as we are ourselves. One of the current areas of intellectual activity within western academia that is taking ideas from “Mysticism” and treating them quite seriously, as well as all kinds of therapeutic disciplines ie cognitive psychology, is General Systems theory, very much involved with mechanical feedback systems, like those in self guided missiles, ironic, which has found in Buddhist dialectics, specifically related to causality a rich source of enlightenment. Muslims no less than others are able to extract all sorts of things from their heritage some leading to beneficial outcomes, depending on what one means by that and others less so. As Refaat is also pointing out he is the oppressor also, if you are really an opponent of anger, violence and hatred what could inspire you to anger? look at its effects. Do you really think that Islam provides us any more reasons to hate and kill than those we can find ourselves by a superficial understanding of how the world works, with its worthless baubles and thrills, if we are not love we are nothing, how this works out how are we are to respond who knows i have no answer, and i have no idea what Islam is or as in Refaats poem who is the first or the last, who is exalted and who is degraded who can say? we come as one or not at all.

      “On the sands of North Africa I carried Palm fronds
      and between East and exile
      I burned maps on Egyptian ports.
      Through the alleys of Benghazi and Derna
      I was asked for my identity card
      I’d torn it in two
      I gave the Inspector a half
      and the other to my beloved…….

      Peace to the murdered
      Peace to living
      Peace to you, partisan, soldier, and farmer
      Peace to workers
      Peace to you who walk on water
      Peace to the date palms that failed
      to sate the children’s hunger
      Peace to you, Land of Rifles
      and Graves
      And to you, Circle of Life
      Saadi Youseff from “The Ends of the African North.

      I was sent this by an Australian colleague:
      Mohammed entered his classroom.
      “What is your name?” asked the teacher.
      “Mohammed”…. answered the kid.
      “We are in Australia and, there is no Mohammed. >From now on your name will be Bruce,”replied the teacher.
      In the evening, Mohammed returned home. “How was your day, Mohammed?” asked his mother.
      “My name is not Mohammed, I am in Australia and now my name is Bruce.”
      “Ah, are you ashamed of your name, are you trying to disown your parents, your heritage, your religion? Shame on you,” and she beat him.
      Then she called the father and he too beat him savagely.
      The next day Mohammed returned to school. When the teacher
      saw him with all the bruises she asked:
      “What happened to you little Bruce?”
      “Well, Miss, 2 hours after becoming Australian I was attacked by two fucking Arabs!…”

      Peace Dear Stephen.

  11. gingershot
    gingershot on November 2, 2012, 10:29 pm

    amazing – thanks

  12. Mustafa Afana
    Mustafa Afana on November 3, 2012, 12:53 pm

    wonderful piece! I wanted to reply earlier but had no time!

    I liked the idea of the “you” and the “I”, and the “bullet”. It sounds to me like John Donne’s the flea, where the flea functions as the bullet.

    dunno whether u agree with me, or had sth else in mind. great one anyways :)

  13. AM
    AM on November 4, 2012, 1:56 am

    Beautiful and extremely moving emotionally.

  14. Danaa
    Danaa on November 5, 2012, 7:01 pm

    Refaat – great poem – from the inside out and back again. There may even be 1/10th of 1% of Israeli soldiers and ex-soldiers who are still awake enough to get your drift. The rest will continue to just….drift. Much to their detriment.

    One thing I have said before – and kind of believe it – is that the Israelis need the Palestinians for their own redemption. But they don’t know that yet because they are intent on not seeing the fork in the road. Just up ahead, not even so far in the distance. Most Israelis think they can choose their own blindness. But sight is a delicate thing – from tunnel vision to no vision can be but a short jump. One does not need to be a retinal specialist to know about collateral damage. And there is no way of excising the past without affecting the future as it turns from a present it cannot process to become its own past again. The only question there is which past exactly.

    A people cannot lose their collective humanity without there being a price to pay. What form the price might take is not for me to say, but I know it is not going to be limited to the Middle East. Just wish I could believe it is not too late yet.

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