Abbie’s father once gave me a book of poetry by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani. Qabbani spent a lot of time in London in the 20th century, and had his own publishing house there. I like to think that this poem is from when he returned to Syria.

This is part of a longer poem, that you can read in full here. Sometimes it is like poetry has a taste, and English poetry taste one thing, and French poetry taste another. English is tea and biscuits, French is souffle and brioche, and this… I sometimes pick up the book to leaf through it, and it’s like almonds and honey. Like the biscuits that Abbie’s mum makes, the baklavas, that I can eat until I die but which fills me after a single one.

My voice rings out, this time, from Damascus
It rings out from the house of my mother and father
In Sham. The geography of my body changes.
The cells of my blood become green.
My alphabet is green.
In Sham. A new mouth emerges for my mouth
A new voice emerges for my voice
And my fingers
Become a tribe

I return to Damascus
Riding on the backs of clouds
Riding the two most beautiful horses in the world
The horse of passion.
The horse of poetry.
I return after sixty years
To search for my umbilical cord,
For the Damascene barber who circumcised me,
For the midwife who tossed me in the basin under the bed
And received a gold lira from my father,
She left our house
On that day in March of 1923
Her hands stained with the blood of the poem…