A lesson in drawing, by Syrian poet: Nizar Qabbani

My son places his paint box in front of me

and asks me to draw a bird for him.

Into the color gray i dip the brush

and draw a square with locks and bars.

Astonishment fills his eyes:

:… But this is a prison, father,

Dont you know, how to draw a bird?”
And I tell him : “Son, forgive me.

I’ve forgotten the shapes of birds.”


My son puts the drawing book in front of me

and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.

I hold the pen

and draw a gun.

My son mocks my ignorance,


“Dont you know, father, the difference between a wheatstalk and a gun?”

I tell him, “Son,

Once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks

the shape of the loaf

the shape of the rose

But in this hardened time

the trees of the forst have joined

the militia men 

and the roses wears dull fatigues

In this time of armed wheatstalks 

armed birds

armed culture

and armed religion

you cant buy a loaf

without finding a gun inside

you can’t pluck a rose in the field

without it raising its thorns in your face

you cant buy a book,

you can’t buy a book that doesn’t explode between your fingers.”


My son sits at the edge of my bed

and asks me to recite a poem,

A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.

My son licks it, astonished, and says:

“But this is a tear, father, not a poem!”

“When you grow up, my son,

and read the diwan of Arabic poetry

You’ll discover that the word and the tear are twins

and the Arabic poem

is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.”


My son lays down his pens, his crayon box

in front of me

and asks me to draw a homeland for him.

The brush trembles in my hands

and I sink, weeping.


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