by Fouad M. Fouad, translated from the Arabic by Ola Abdulla


Our nightmares do not fit all this hell

4000 dead 

Their terrified eyes leering at the emptiness of our souls

Their stares clotting out of fear on the sidewalk


4000 dead

How can the world fit all this wailing? 


4000 dead in one month 

20 thousand liters of tenebrous blood 


“blood rivers”

No longer a metaphor



We prepare for the worst, upcoming 

Then the worst happens

We’re perplexed 

We’re shocked

And we wallow 

Then we begin again,

Preparing for the worst, upcoming



The books are also refugees 


Thousands of books arrived today from my library in Aleppo to Beirut. 

The books that I gathered in the span of 40 years 

arrived in white and brown boxes 

like coffins 

to the American University of Beirut’s storage

And they parked there

awaiting their new home,

atop the shelves of this honorable library.


The long journey they went through,

the bitter negotiations to get them 

out of the house and the clinic to Beirut,

It deserves a long conversation and less agitated words…one day.

The books also ask for refuge, 

and take risk 

To arrive at a safe haven. 

The home library

Memories, stories, small notes hidden within pages, 

Doodles in the margins. 

Books not opened yet, 

Books damaged from re-reading, 

Books like secret treasures,  

Books smuggled under seats and inside scrubbed clothes. 

Thousands of books arrived to me 

In a truck 

Like the one in Austria with tens of Syrian families


My books I abandoned 

Like a heartless father who did not know how to protect his children.

My books I gave away 

Like a tender father who knows the adoptive family will care for them with love.

My books I glanced over 

From in between the cracks of the boxes like a futile lover.

My books now sleep in storage rooms, bodies in a morgue.

My books are now in the shelter

Bastard children between thousands alike



This morning, another old friend left Aleppo.

Whether his migration be permanent or temporary 

Forced displacement or  somehow voluntary 

I ultimately lose 

Another friend lost. 

Losing – especially that which resembles extraction – 

Is a form of death

A kind of death in light doses

It doesn’t change any of the pain 

It only makes it quieter and slower.

Friends meet their exile

Their new home

Their grave. 

Most hurtful, are those who sneak out the back 

Door of the friendship garden, 

Leaving behind a gaping mouth

Hands reaching out 

And a bite mark on the fingers.


One after the other 

They become suitcases, waiting halls, and a text message saying 

“We arrived safely”



This is some sort of mistake

He must leave

Not you!



I bury my face in my palms to cry 

I remember the beheaded child that can’t 


There is hope

But not for us 



History will not find 

The time nor pages 

To list the names of the half-million dead, 

But certainly will name the killer.


Even in death, history isn’t just. 



I do not know what the detained remember of days

Their birthdays, do they remember?

Yet, the eldest sister 

– of course – 

lights one candle after another 

So that he does not get lost on the way back to her.

Ola Abdulla

Ola Abdulla is a Bahraini Research Associate working on policy, economic, and social research in the Arab region. She holds a degree in Public Administration and a minor in International Law. Her translation experience is most prevalent in her technical field but is not limited by it. This is one of her first attempts in literary translation of poetry. She describes herself as a dilettante in regards to her appreciation and enthusiastic interest in all forms of art, including that of the written word.

Fouad M. Fouad

Fouad M. Fouad is a Syrian poet, physician, and public health researcher at the American University of Beirut. He is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Once Upon a Time in Aleppo.

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