Necessarily, the Camp is the Border

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, University of Oxford and Refugee Hosts Writer in Residence

There, the noise is also the religious…

On a day as chilly as the pulses of those who took away our things and left the door ajar, you gave birth to me in darkness: you, the midwife, two whitish towels patterned with dry blood, and a bowl of hot water. I, to my utter surprise, bore you from within, at once, with no pain. Now I know why you used to call me ‘my mother’ whenever I slipped away from my dialect and pretended I ate that which you served me and my siblings, of the cracked wheat you cooked. You said: Eat it. It’s good for you. It’s good for your memory. You never said that was what was left of our rations, of your undying walks to the distribution centres. Mother, allow me in your absence, while shrouded in the last sound of your sound, to call you: My mother. Mother, listen carefully, mother: I am your mother.

When we entered, the path was nothingness and nothingness was a path.

O Enterers, depart from yourselves to see in your naked eyes the offspring of the border…

The worst of fates is not to arrive in your place.

The place, to protect itself, surrounds its limbs with spears.

Instead of wheat they grind their memories.

Nobody knows for sure a refugee’s age.

The border is not bordered except by the coming death.

Only in the camp is the right age read through the hands.

In the archive everything begins and ends with the archive.

The archive whose writing is yet to happen is also called God.

Necessarily, the camp is the border.

We wait before the place never to claim the seen but to count the eyes of which we dream.

Come to the camp to remember what will never come.

The definite is the shadow and not the owner.

Those feet are the creator of time.

The camp will always remember its birth as the question of the question which never ceases to return to its body.

The singularity of the camp equates to the singularity of God whose existence is predicated on complete solitude.

The body of the camp is the bearer of time. When the camp outlives time it outlives itself for itself.

In other words, the camp is whatever is far from clarity but near itself.

Smells in the camp are the body proper. They arrive in advance of everything including the body.

Refugees to awaken themselves stomp their feet upon arrival.

The obscurity of what a camp is is the obscurity of language whenever confronted by its nothingness.

Even when it is approached, the word “camp” will always be held at the frontier.

We store our dialects in broken hearts in advance of death. Might we die without our dialects one day?

You sin. You recite verses upon which additions float. You say: the host is an addition. Your throat swells up as you squeeze words out of sounds and sounds out of words. You pray while water sweeps the intact point on your forehead. I enter with tentative feet. Past your mat tiptoeing: verses, like running water, fall from above rapidly as though something were to happen. As though I were brothering the devil in my silent whispers and my father’s spluttering in his room. You were hardly there, only a handful of words hanging from your long white dress.

The promise contains the promise.

When a promise is uttered language dies.

A bird ploughing the air is the dialect.

In the camp, we can only see the camp’s shadow.

Dialects, too, get pregnant.

What is still in the dialect is the name and nothing but the name.


Featured Image: Waiting, en route to Zarqaa, Jordan. (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, October 2018

Read, and listen, to more poetry by Yousif by visiting out Creative Archive, or by visiting his contributor’s page here.


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