Visiting Poets

Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad

Twenty-six-year-old Palestinian-American poet and political activist Suheir Hammad has published a book of poems, Born Palestinian, Born Black, and a memoir, Drops Of This Story, and is prominently featured in Listen Up! An Anthology Of Spoken Word Poetry. Recipient of the Audre Lourde Writing Award from Hunter College, the Morris Center for Healing Poetry Award, and a New York Mills Artist Residency in Minnesota, Hammad is a frequent reader at New York reading venues, including numerous radio appearances, and has performed with The All That Band and Rhythms of Aqua. She has produced a documentary film, Half A Lifetime, and is writing a film entitled From Beirut To Brooklyn, based on her memoir. Naomi Shihab Nye has called Hammad’s work “a brave flag over the dispossessed.”

In addition to her work as a creative artist, Hammad has written and spoken out about issues such as the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, domestic violence, sexual abuse, racism, and homophobia. Currently a college student, Hammad also edits the literary journal Butter Phoenix and writes a literary column for “Stress” magazine.

Select Poems

don’t wanna be your exotic
some delicate     fragile    colorful bird
imprisoned         caged
in a land foreign to the stretch of her wings

don’t wanna be your exotic
women everywhere are just like me
some taller       darker    nicer than me
but like me but just the same
women everywhere carry my nose on their faces
my name on their spirits

don’t wanna
don’t seduce yourself with
my otherness   my hair
wasn’t put on top of my head to entice
you into some mysterious black vodou
the beat of my lashes against each other
ain’t some dark desert beat
it’s just a blink
get over it

don’t wanna be your exotic
your lovin of my beauty ain’t more than
funky fornication            plain pink perversion
in fact    nasty necrophilia
cause my beauty is dead to you
i am dead to you

not your
harem girl           geisha doll                 banana picker
pom pom girl      pum pum shorts        coffee maker
town whore        belly dancer               private dancer
la malinche         venus hottentot          laundry girl
your immaculate vessel emasculating princess

don’t wanna be
your erotic
not your exotic

From BORN PALESTINIAN, BORN BLACK (Harlem River Press, 1996)

raised to fetch slippers and brew tea
kill chickens and roast lambs
you scrubbed floors raw
on knees bleeding exhaustion
fed babies and watered plants
you embroidered your dreams
into scarves and veils

married to men you did not know
so how could you love
you learned to love though
your children
their baby whimpers and
nipple sucking

when your land is raped you
thank god you still have husbands
when your husbands are jailed
you thank god for your sons
when your sons are murdered      execution style
you hide your daughters and
when they are found and jailed
you fast til they return
and pray some more and
when they are     as their land       raped
you prepare bandages and some
more prayer and when your family
loses all faith you
pray for their souls

half your sons leave      crazy
to be with the enemy’s woman
the other half stay         crazy
to take out their hunger
on your daughters
and when we your
daughters say we are
about more than chickens and tea
you ask who do
we think we no better than you
and you are right

we take your smoldering strength and
maternal love to throw as
stones at mercenaries
use your patience as shields in the nights
your womb      our shelter
your heart        where we bury our dead

you softly recite our poetry
in songs sad and true
fast for our return and
pray for our souls

we mistake your strength
for acquiescence
cause it’s brown and quiet

remind us mothers
how you are the ones who
converse daily with ancestors
dialogue with angels
curse the devil
and through your exile
still cook the best okra though
force us to eat it

we     your daughters
and our men
honor our mothers
and the lives
they survived

we follow the sun each day
it rises in the east
as you once did
and warms us
as you once did

From BORN PALESTINIAN, BORN BLACK (Harlem River Press, 1996)

ain’t no time for thoughts of suicide
we gotsa entertain homicide

but billboards bombard us
with calvin klein crotches & butt cracks
bag of crack         cracked bodies        & body bags

colored girls commit suicide
buying ugly lies & no lye straight &
straight nose lies
thinkin the rainbow ain’t enuf
anyway the rainbow was a slave ship

let it rain the kind that got no end
no rainbows & no green pot of gold
wash them thoughts out of your (fried) head
of glocs & pops against your brotha
of bitch & whore against your sista

time to dust this dirt off our brains
&stop sniffin it up our noses
tyin our own nooses
with drivebys & daddy’s bye-byes
with beat up women & gun sportin children

let it rain the wrath of crazy horse
that manic native in the sky
let it flood with the sweat of shaka zulu
with holy water from some frustrated vodou
cleanse your eyes of blonde & blue
purify your spirit from red white and blue

enough of this
colonial commercialization of ancient civilisations
right when we need to rebuild nations

get offa this suicide watch we on
we need to watch our backs
release earth’s wrath
on those who sin against humanity
who place a baby’s health underneath vanity
whose who trade wealth for sanity

but tv infects us with vd & van damme
and damming programming
programs of purple gay dinosaurs
gettin us up the butt while we
got each other by the throats
enough of this
kill barney

kill barney & ronald mcdonald
& beaver & gilligan too
cook up lambchop & serve his ass as stew
quiet that white boy in the white house
while you at it
clog his saxophone with old english
& country club &
make him play his soul til
he admit                  damn it taste like shit

o.d. the tv and rip up the radio
less it plays only trane & marley & p.e.
kill the evil
& serve mankind
kill the evil &
service your humanity

we gotsa
gotta get off this suicide watch we on
& smell out the real enemy

From BORN PALESTINIAN, BORN BLACK (Harlem River Press, 1996)

Poetry Center Reading

Fall 1999