“Shroud of Light” by Lisa Suhair Majaj

Lisa Suhair Majaj


If I must die, you must live to tell my story
—Refaat Alareer

By the time they killed Refaat, there was nothing new
about the rows of bodies rolled up in stark white shrouds,
surprisingly unbesmirched by dust or blood, tied
at both ends in neat bundles, sometimes in the middle
too, so the sheet wouldn’t slip, carried gently through
streets on the way to mass graves, those pits dug
in whatever ground could be reached without the living
being picked off by snipers, the unstained white
of winding cloths belying the odor of carnage
permeating every crevice, miasma of death hanging
like an ashen pall in the sky, clogging the lungs of those
who still try to breathe. A newscaster said, children
are meant to play in the dirt, but in Gaza it’s their shroud.
Even that is beyond many. One Gazan wrote, if I die,
please make sure my children’s bodies are covered
not left open to wild dogs, the relentless, howling
sky. Lost beneath rubble, Refaat was denied
a poet’s burial, left only stone dust and concrete
for his shroud. But the words that survive his death
wrap his living spirit in a gauze of light.
“There’s a Palestine that dwells inside all of us,”
he wrote. Take his words, inscribe them on a kite,
brilliant white, to fly high over the terrible world,
so that his death is a tale that brings hope,
so that he lives, so that we live, so that Gaza
becomes a place not of shrouds but of freedom,
kites rippling in sunshine, lit by the blaze of life.

from Poets Respond
December 17, 2023


Lisa Suhair Majaj: “On December 7th, Gazan writer Refaat Alareer was killed along with family members in a targeted Israeli airstrike. Refaat was a professor of literature, a poet and writer, beloved inside and outside of Gaza for his words and for his role in the non profit organization We Are Not Numbers (WANN), a youth-led project seeking to tell the stories of Gazans. Scores of Gazan poets, writers, artists, musicians and journalists had been killed in the past months. In a recording made before his killing Refaat said, choked with tears, ‘The situation is very bleak. We don’t even have water …’ Days before his death Refaat pinned this poem to his Twitter account.” (web)

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