The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 21-JAN 22

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DEC 21-JAN 22 Issue

“I translate the names of boys killed in Gaza”

In the city of poets, there is a boy with a stone 
He is the guardian, lion-hearted and small, the stone half of his palm 
His palm half of mine. The land scorched by naked sun
The blue of the sky lightens his eyes. In the city of poets, there is a boy 
with a stone. We call him Hydar, which means lion, which means brave
We call him Khadir which means goodness
We call him Ahmad which means commendable 
We call him Rashad which means good judgement
In the city of poets, the boy with a stone can visit his family in el-Quds, which means 
Jerusalem. He picks oranges and lemons with his grandfather on an orchard as long 
as his small boy body can see. He fills a basket with vibrant fruit for his mother
He doesn’t drop the stone
We call him Riyad which means gardens
We call him Seeraj, which means light 
We call him Mazen, which means cloud
We call him Sa’ad which means happiness 
We call him Basim, which means the one who smiles
He is always smiling. On his shoulders, he holds his sister up to a branch 
she can’t reach and they both fall, laughing, to the soft red earth that’s known 
them & fed them in every past life. He leads her back home, where their mother 
bakes bread. He holds her hand. He doesn’t drop the stone 
We call him Mehdi, which means rightly guided 
We call him Amir which means prince
We call him Alaa which means nobility
We call him Slayman, which means man of peace 
We call him Mustafa, which means chosen one
In the city of poets, there is a boy with a stone. At school he memorizes verses
from Darwish, Samih Al-Qasem, Fadwa Tuqan. Midday, outside, the sun overhead 
warms his small body as he kicks a ball to other small boys like him. In each of 
their hands, there is a stone
We call him Hani, which means carefree & happy
We call him Tariq, which means morning star 
We call him Salah, which means peace
We call him Bahaa’ which means brilliance
We call him Marwan, which means stone
In the city of poets, the boy sleeps in a bedroom with his brother. On the walls there 
are posters of soccer players and musicians. His parents smoke and laugh downstairs 
with their neighbors. Outside the only noises are from crickets, the carpet of stars 
above them lights the angles of his brothers’ face, his future face. Even in sleep, 
they don’t drop the stone
We call him Saleem which means safe and secure
We call him Hazem which means determined
We call him Omar, which means long-lived
We call him Khalid, which means endless, eternal
In the city of poets, a tank waits for him, an army behind, flanked by a police brigade, 
glazed in impenetrable armor. Over his home, the deafening whine of an airstrike. 
The boy will wake on this day, his stone in hand, his hand clutched like a heart at 
the moment of flight, our guardian. 
And we will call him Shaheed, which means martyr. 

A note from the poet:

My own belief is that until something is in your own language, you don’t fully understand it. It must be spoken to you in the language you were raised listening to—there is a different sweetness to the ear, a different tonality in your own understanding. I wrote this poem, “I translate the names of boys killed in Gaza,” to address that language gap. I want to say that this is not a complete list of the number of civilians, girls, pregnant women, medics, journalists, doctors, and other victims who have been killed by Israel through airstrikes, buildings falling onto people, gunshots. In light of the violence, we receive what seem like endless lists of Arabic names, and part of this poem is very much attempting to bridge that gap for the reader who predominantly understands English—how can we have them connect with this list of endless names—this list of children’s names, in particular?


Ghinwa Jawhari

Ghinwa Jawhari is the author of the chapbook BINT (Radix Media 2021), winner of the inaugural Own Voices Chapbook Prize. She is a 2021 Margins Fellow at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and founder of the Koukash Review. Find her poetry, essays, and fiction in Mizna, Catapult, SPEAK, Narrative, The Margins, and elsewhere.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 21-JAN 22

All Issues