Yahia Lababidi is an Egyptian-American poet and writer. He is the author of 11 books of poetry and prose, including most recently Quarantine Notes (Fomite Press, 2023), short meditations composed during the global pandemic. His new collection of poetry, Palestine Wail, is forthcoming.
"I give Gaza my waking & dreaming hours, my poetry & my prose," Yahia Lababidi wrote recently on social media, where he often posts short reflections and aphorisms that seem to exist somewhere between poetry and prose. Lababidi is a prolific Egyptian-American poet and writer—his 12th book, a collection of poetry titled Palestine Wail, will be published later this year—whose work has appeared on NPR and the PBS NewsHour, among other media outlets, and been anthologized in the Best American Poetry series. American poet Richard Blanco, who was chosen as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States for Barack Obama's second inauguration, has called Lababidi the "modern-day master" of the aphorism.
"In this moment where it seems the grand narratives are failing to hold our attention, maybe the humble epigram can do its work," Lababidi once told an interviewer. "While deceptively slight and slender, then you sit with it, and perhaps it liberates you somehow, or reminds you of what you've forgotten." Lababidi has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize, and his work has been widely translated into many languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, Slovak, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Swedish.
His three new poems on Gaza, published here in Democracy in Exile for the first time, will appear in his new poetry collection Palestine Wail. You can also listen to Lababidi read the poems himself.
—Frederick Deknatel, Executive Editor
During a Genocide
You will find that during a genocide
most words lose their meaning
Some sound empty & others strange
Apart from unceasing prayer,
eloquence takes the form
of tears or kindness and solidarity
Even a quiet moan or sighing
is preferable to false words or worse:
a loud and wounding Silence…
Gaza, Capital of Hurt
Fitting that the word gauze
should have ties to Gaza (غزة)
a center of weaving
since the 13th-century
It's our turn, after hundreds of years
to dress Gazan wounds & wipe their tears…
You win, by losing
Awoke, in the middle of the night
with these words ringing in my ears:
You win (morally, spiritually)
by losing (on the physical plane)
O, Gaza, O, Palestine …
you had to be exterminated
to be seen & remembered.