Leavings | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 08, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 08, 2018



John Drew, mourning the untimely death of poet Riad Nourallah (1949-2018), comments:  Riad's writing and teaching draw on the great humanist tradition of Islam. Best known for poems composed in the Arabic of his beloved Beirut, his works in English include King, a poetic novel evoking the pre-Islamic Arabia of the Mu'allaqat; The Death of Almustafa, a moving final volume to the story of Khalil Gibran's hero; an edition of, and comprehensive introductory essay on, W.S. Blunt's minor 19th century classic, The Future of Islam; Beyond the Arab Disease, a visionary road-map towards peace in the Middle East; and, for younger readers, The Messenger: A Verse Narrative and Loving Letters: An Islamic Alphabet. At his death, he was editing Blunt's World War I diaries.  

(For Riad Nourallah)


No-one to flatter us now 

for our bad verses,

to leave a jar of honey at the door

or hold the world on its axis.

Your body they took to Damascus

to be buried there.

You shrug wryly at that:

too many buried already,

Syria made a cemetery by war.

How many refugees now

stumble above your head?

You too have been on the road:

Palestine, Lebanon, Syria,

all inscribed on your brow

as well as the Fen Causeway.

They took your father's house

and gave it a new country,

leaving you with a legacy

of elegance and elegy.

They chased the cedars of Lebanon

into the blood-dark sea,

leaving their fragrant idiom

piquant upon your tongue.

Dispossessed of house after house,

you carried the world in your heart,

coming to muse, an Almustafa,

among the fenland cows.

You raised a family on dreams.

And now we are dispossessed

of you. This is the true nakba.

Of course, of course we are multitudes

in Gaza as in our graveyards

but also we are singular.

Singular in your eloquence,

you too came as a messenger,

moving among us mysteriously,

perhaps one of the seven just men

who walk the world unknown.

And suddenly you are gone.

You leave a wife grieving

as Khadija never had to,

a house composed of empty rooms

and a rich picking of poems

prime as Medjoul dates.

Selamat jalan, Riad!

Continue to build Jerusalem

among the shades!

John Drew is an occasional contributor to The Daily Star literature Page.

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