A Poem From A Syrian Psychiatrist: 'Cloud-Cafe'

Mar 23, 2017
Originally published on March 24, 2017 8:53 am

With his skill as a psychiatrist, Dr. Hussam Jefee-Bahloul is reaching out to the troubled people of his Syrian homeland, offering guidance for health workers who work with mental health issues in a population traumatized by war.

And with his love of words, he tries to capture his longing for his homeland in poetry.

Born in Lattakia, Syria, in 1983 and now a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, he has published two books of poems in Arabic: The Opener of Canned Hope and Bird Smoking Marijuana. He has also founded Ta-Sheeq, a project that poetry with art and music in choreographed performances.

The poem "Cloud-Cafe" appears in his collection Bird Smoking Marijuana. It was translated into English by Samantha Kostmayer and Hussam Jefee-Bahloul and is reprinted with his permission.

Cloud-Café

There, at the entrance of the chest

between a throat and a tongue

stands a long line of humans

workers in morose clothing

restless with weary faces

making plans

and strategizing hope

waiting for the end of war

frightened by

the price of bread and potatoes

and the cost of words

amused by

the concerns of global warming

and conspiracy theories

while Ebola butterflies

tickle the nose of their imagination

until they laugh

their only consolation

a cigarette

and ashes that drown entire cities

And when break-time is over

they draw crosses and middle fingers

with the coal of time

on the walls of the lung

and return to work

This is how the years of war pass

one

by one

falling like calendar pages

fueling his grandiose plans

the lumberjack of lives

the bookkeeper of martyrs

he who answers the prayers of the dead

who with one hand

places medals on Generals

while with the other

writes on clouds his poetry of lament

This is how the years of war pass

ordinary...

nothing changes but the order of numbers

and the faith of those who chant in the streets

while up there

in "cloud-café"

somebody lifts his eyes for a moment

leaning forward to check on the loud noises

from below

only to

bury his gray beard

again in his new iPhone.

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