8 July, 2013Issue 22.6Creative WritingLiteratureOriginal PoetryTranslation

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My Mother the Philosopher

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh


If I were to trace the emergence of these pieces, I would simply say that I have always known them. Like preserved food or dried fruit and vegetables they just needed an external element, to breathe again, in order to relive their lives and die once more, of natural causes, en masse. Using English, a language which is not mine (but what is mine?), to gather glimpses of multiple voids scattered here and there, has made me realise how apt this form of linguistic displacement can be when mothers, dialects, loss, and above all one’s own language are summoned to save a tilting body. If the poetic in these pieces, for whatever reason, has become visible, this is perhaps because it is “descriptive of the beginning” (Said, after Vico, in Beginnings: Intention and Method, 2012)—the beginning that is still becoming.


Beautiful Contamination

I was informed once that my dialect is not as pure as it should be. According to them I have failed to preserve what I have inherited. But in truth I have inherited nothing. I just heard noises and without even knowing how and why, I accumulated some of them in my pockets and ran away. I robbed them in daylight.

They tried to catch me but before they even lay their pure noises on me I swallowed what became mine very quickly. I internalised what suited me (most) of these collective noises.

As I walk on my own these days, I only think of what I swallowed that day. I smile without letting my dialect know that I still do not know what it might sound like in the singular.


“A geometrician sees exactly the same thing in two similar figures, drawn to different scales.”
Bachelard—The Poetics of Space


In addition to death, there is also its life. Contemplating the distance that separates us from the former can be viewed as an historical trial to fit life within death and vice versa. These two abstract bodies become similar in the way they appear and disappear as well as in their in-ability to occupy the same void. Attempting to draw a picture of life and death, irrespective of the impossibility of such products, might, geometrically, present us with a visible scientific justification of such similarity. Should we doubt the outcome, life and death become infertile in a non-geometrical sense.



I live in Baddawi Camp in a small house.

This is what I used to tell foreigners every single time they came to my primary school. At times I used to run after them and repeat these words without waiting for their questions. I have always thought that questions are inherent within the answers and that answers very often comprise their questions, questions which no answers can address.


Her Name

I held my mother’s hand firmly as she was trying to write her name for the first time. My hand clutched hers without realising that was a genuine and yet necessary demonstration of intimacy. There was no eye contact between us. The only thing we were both able to see was her slightly trembling and untidy name imprinted in graphite on the first page of my notebook.


“To say ‘we’ and mean ‘I’ is one of the most recondite insults.”
Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life

My Mother the Philosopher

I have always wanted to deputise my mother in my conversations or even present her as a philosopher whose philosophical reflections should not be taken lightly or listened to transiently. The aim has always been to guide myself, at the expense of my mother, into a place where only people with (loud) voices are allowed to exist. The voice was completely mine but the echo was always hers. I needed her to bring me to the surface, to the realm of being as my mother who enjoyed doing so without questioning my intentions. From trying to teach her how to write her name into transforming her into a benign philosophical voice, the distance is vast but hers, nonetheless.



At times I choose to worry about the words I utter. I choose to over-critique the movement of my words; whether they are forming sentences or a void as they leave my vocal cords. At times I also try to suppress words that I like to use to see if they will grow tired of me and eventually leave my place. Sadly, this eventuality has never happened and for it to happen it needs to stop being an eventuality. At times I choose to worry too much about the way in which, unexpectedly, and when we least think of them, specific, or very specific, words decide to desert us and leave us ex situ.


Yousif M. Qasmiyeh is a poet, translator, and Instructor in Arabic at the Language Centre, University of Oxford. His poems and translations have appeared in An-Nahar, Al-Ghawoon, See How I Land (Heaventree Press, 2009) and in Modern Poetry in Translation.