The Bomb Shelter

by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, University of Oxford, Refugee Hosts, and Imagining Futures

The bomb shelter:

The camp’s alibi for a presence susceptible to its presence

The private parts of the dead, circumcised with hindsight

Guts as road signs                                          Or a map

Ruins summoning ruins             Ruins fornicating ruins

In rows, they ululated. The bomb shelter? The camp contracting to its essence.

The precarious is the non-existent. There, in the much deliberated existence, will always be a missing limb. 

Who stayed behind to count the void that is?

A shelter to come and a camp that is.

In the canon of dust, the camp deprived of its shadow is a shelter.

Only dust departs and remains at once.

When they built it they carved its past out of God’s shoulder.

In the consequence of time, the shoulder shall return to God as severed time. 

The shelter’s guardian who, to the best of my knowledge, was not Palestinian, had a lisp and around his discoloured neck was a chain with an empty bullet for decoration.

My son, anger not a stray bullet, remain in a place that was. 

By shadowing its coming, the camp mimics the future. 

The string my father used to pull his tooth out, as the bombs were falling, snapped in half. Two almost equal strings suspended in total darkness awaiting new blood. 

Declare it even if God is certain of that which long passed. In good time, time cuts the throat of time.  

A tomb for the hesitant. A wreath for men and metals…  

No clouds for the face. Water for the tomb and the house plants. 

In my naked eye: I saw my sister running away from a bomb, stark naked save her eyes.

The bomb shelter is one third of the camp. In the fraction, neither are not alone nor are they not together. A fractioned fraction, an escape route for stagnant intentions.    

When we left the bomb shelter, our dusty faces stayed behind. Inside, is where we swapped faces in haste.  

It is still war so no remembering to be remembered behind those walls

But the nests for the hovering metal

Outside, time is tomorrow

Or could it not be that which was not

It is still war according to their pulses 

On their lips: God recites the eye

The pierced eye

Eyes to the extent of not seeing   

The border as the dual

Outside place

The indifference to all beyond dying

The indifference to the indifferent death

To the binding in time   

There is some time in waiting: the pail tentatively suspended from the handle. A dry well in the vicinity, feigning sound…

In the bomb shelter, I wet myself so I would mark my spot.

The wailing inside never ended to the extent of our dialect becoming wailing.

To repel the evil eye, my mother would only count us under her breath.

I cannot remember it all. What I can remember for certain is memory twisting our neighbour’s neck.

Imminent are the whispers of time. Whenever it is whispered, those en route stop to catch their breath and stretch their legs. 

The imminent never arrives. A contract between time and another time it is.

To make carrying the gun easier, the young fighter dressed his gun’s arms with his mother’s old socks.

Inside, the residual is always in the air.

The residual condemns all to waiting.

Inside the shelter no one ever asks about the time. 

Time is the time of our excrements parted by unannounced ceasefires. 

When the bullet punctured her lung she was squatting in the name of time.

No one survives time, not even God. 

Violence! In your name, meaning shall kill itself.


This poem was written by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh in Baddawi camp in July 2019 as part of the new AHRCImagining Futures through Un/Archived Pasts project’s Baddawi Camp Lab. The Lab is jointly led by Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Yousif M. Qasmiyeh in collaboration with the Baddawi Camp Cultural Club.

Featured image: The entrance to one of the bomb shelters in Baddawi Camp, N. Lebanon. (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, December 2019.

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


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s