A Sudden Utterance is the Stranger

By Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, University of Oxford

Listen here (read by Y. M. Qasmiyeh): 


The moon is the birthmark of the refugee.

His birth equates to the mauling of his entire body.

Nothing is anomalous about the wound.

While waiting, we bite our nails and flesh.

Once I dreamt in God’s language. In my extreme ecstasy, I swallowed my tongue.


A dialect is a circumcised lip.

A sudden utterance is the stranger.

Only when tongues age, do dialects become old enough to leave.

In dialects, we gather the ungathered with the subtlety of the dead.

They say: A dialect is a moon letter pronounced dead at birth.

An utterance en route is the utterance that can never promise.


In the camp, measuring air by hand by no means connotes the intimate.


And the house is a camp as well, in both its partialness and completeness.

As for time, it is an endeavour to the impossible in the impossibility of an existence devoid of it.


Staring at things is the dwelling of time in its own time.

The moment feet hit the ground no more, they perish like aged bones.

In the camp, directions are needles in time’s back.


The camp, to sustain its body, shrinks its limbs.

Men and women look alike in the camp.

The camp has its own God.

The spectator is whoever cannot see his face.

The face is only geography in the camp.


In the lonely camp, in a camp that leads to nothing and to another camp, I knocked and knocked and without turning my back I could see the feet behind me crushing the air and time.

The sound foot can never be a limb.

The soundness of a limb is the meaning of death.

Death, to carry a meaning, carries its offspring.


The camp is the tomb that has yet to find its dead.

Could it not be that the tomb is the name?

Only the dead lead us to the cemetery.


Listen to the poem here: 

For more of Yousif’s poetry, click here. You can read more of Yousif’s work, other poems, and insights into the role translation will play throughout the Refugee Hosts project on our Translation and Displacement Series page.

Photo credit: A Graveyard in Baddawi Camp, (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s