The Terracotta Army

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The terracotta warriors they call them.

Yet peaceful and often smiling they stand with their topknots and shoes, and without swords.

A few rest on the ground, asleep.

What is our role in this play? To witness the greatness, the whims of an Emperor who never had any misgivings about destroying human life so that he may have a place in heaven and fight the armies of the beyond?

The beauty and calm of all the warriors – what are we to make of them? Should we make something of them?

The sheer size and details are astounding: the perfection of the eyes and the wrinkles on the foreheads of the generals, the slight bellies and pointed shoes of the mid-level officers, and the peaceful faces of the common soldiers standing erect.

They seem to be waiting as though to welcome rather than to fight. Maybe history is just a trick and what the Emperor wanted as threatening, comes to us as peaceful and silent.

Kenza.

Illustration: A photo I took at the Terracotta Army site built in 210-209 BCE, following the orders of Qin Shi Wang, First Emperor of China – Xi’an, China, June 2018.

I do not

I do not write about lingering sunsets, falling blossom petals, the light in the early morning or even about birds taking flight.

I do not use metaphors either. Using the beauty of the world to describe emotions, renders all things oh … just so so banal.

There is no need to trap beauty into words and fancy imagery, forcing it to jump through loops of twisted grammatical constructs.

As for emotions, if you love, if you feel sad; just say it! No need for the rain to take the place of your tears. Your tears are beautiful just as they are.

In this self-centered world, where poetry is measured in hits and likes, as though it was a piece of furniture, I admit to finding little solace in the words of others.

So I lean back on the old Masters like Verlaine and Kobayashi and Hafez and Pushkin and Wang Wei and Victor Hugo and Rumi and Li Pao and Neruda and Basho, and many others.

When I hold a book of their poetry, the world slows down, everything becomes tenderly subtle and I can then hear the silence of beauty.

Kenza.

Gregor Samsa – a better world is possible

So you know how it goes.

You are a child and they put you in school. If you are lucky they won’t cram A’s and B’s into your brain. But most of the time these days they will, even if you already grasp the concept.

Numbers also appear and sometime along the way, you are asked to learn multiplication tables by heart. And then they explain adjectives and verbs and grammar. But never do they tell you why grammar is important. Diligently you learn the rules, make mistakes aplenty and in orthography too, and you start fearing exams. And you study some more, and you memorise some more, and somehow it is fine. Grammar you see is important because without it there would be chaos and there would be no communication. But they never tell you that.

And you move on … with the herd.

Then one day, while at the public library, you notice a little book on a table waiting to be placed back on the shelf. You are barely 11 years old but the cover attracts you. It is a bug -kind of a cockroach really- and it is looking at you. You pick it up, sit on a chair at the corner, and start to read.

“One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.”

You meet Gregor Samsa for the very first time and your life changes.

The world becomes multi-dimensional and filled with the unknown. You realize that not understanding is not such a bad thing and that it leads you to question, to ponder, to search some more. You realise that someone else thinks along the same lines as you do, and even writes about it without being belittled. You encounter poetry and the magic of words. You realize imagination has no boundaries, no shapes, and that it is immense, colourful and filled with flavours that you, yes you, can change at will.

I remember the joy of delving into a new world, pondering Gregor Samsa’s dilemma and feeling sorry for him; but also rejoicing at his uncanny freedom as he leaves the house, and by the same token, the drudgery of his working life. He may be a bug, a “vermin” as some translations put it, but he is suddenly free and unburdened. And that, you see, is just fine.

The world is an open field and we have the ability to avoid falling into drudgery if we really want to. We need not become a bug, but we can metamorphose at will. Our mind, our imagination, our sensitivity to the world are to be used, to be expanded upon.

As the world seems to be breaking at the seams with rampant ignorance, prejudice and violence, we can let our mind be free and we can dream. Just like Kafka, we all have a wonderful capacity to expand our imagination beyond the confines of even books and words.

Thank you for reading.

Kenza.

Hibakusha – 被爆者

A peace poem

Hibakusha –
atomic bomb survivor
… what a distressful epithet.

Loss
tragic loss
carbonized beings
in an urban desert.

And for so many years
discrimination
pushed aside
for being different
branded
feared
– that instinctive fear
brought on by ignorance.

Seventy three years
since Hiroshima and Nagasaki
and still
people have not learned
people fail to remember.

Still playing with missiles
as though they were match sticks.
Still trying out new ways
to kill, to inflict pain.

Big people playing
the games of little brats
for real
because they can
because we let them.

Kenza.


This short text was inspired by a recent encounter with a Hibakusha. My son and I were honoured by his presence and his words, poignant words said with utter simplicity about his experience on that day and the years that followed. We were most humbled as he encouraged everyone to work for peace, no matter the size of the gesture. The gentleman was six years old when the atomic bomb feel on Hiroshima.

A very plum… plum

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Whenever I bite into a plum, I am always reminded of “The English Patient,” when Count Almásy tells the nurse, Hana, after biting into a plum: “This is a very plum … plum.”

I love that line. Its gramatical simplicity tells us that perfection is being what one is. The plum is perfect precisely because it is a “plum… plum.”

If only we could live our lives the same way – “a very life … life.”

Kenza.


– “The English Patient” was written by Michael Ondaatje (1993) and made into a movie under the direction of Anthony Minghella (1996). Both versions are wonderful.
– The bowl is from Turkey, and I bought the plums this morning at the market.

It happens when I tell a story

It happens when I tell a story.

For the lady sitting in the kitchen, cleaning green peas from the pods, my stories make her smile. As she listens to me, she distinctly recalls her first kiss and that first embrace so many years ago. I can tell by the gentle way she leans on the side as she reaches for the pods. As the mountain of peas grows, a discreet smile paints itself on her thin lips, expressing secret longings. As they open slightly, they release a soft sigh that I feel had been kept inside for a very long time. She looks up at me. She is silent and yet, I can read countless stories in her eyes.

For the children sitting in a circle, some leaning against each other and others looking at their toes, my stories fill them with wonder. They listen and see me gesticulate and exaggerate, and suddenly they are transported to the desert where the immense night sky is filled with countless stars. Some, they tell me, can even hear the gentle “cling clang” of the wooden bells baby camels wear. And when they leave the circle, the setting of their play has expanded infinitively.

For the man sitting next to me in the bus, my stories open his heart. He tells me how he felt when his first child was born, and when his second one died at just nine days old. He tells me with his eyes shining with tears, that his most precious desire in life is not to have a mansion, but to hold his son in his arms just one more time. He continues to talk and this time, I listen.

All this happens when I tell a story.

I like to tell stories. Maybe it is because I carry in my Arab blood the millenary tradition of telling stories and reciting poetry; or maybe, it is simply because I love to share and colour things around me.

Why don’t you try it one day? Tell stories to strangers and you will see how their eyes will shine and smiles will faintly trace memories and dreams on their lips. Open your heart and other hearts will open.

It happens to me all the time. Such a precious gift to give and to receive, don’t you think?

Now and again, some people may not want to listen or partake. That is fine of course. I then write my stories down, often in the form of a poem, and come here to share and colour the world.

Thank you for reading.

Kenza.