The following poem was chosen by Marc Falkoff, editor of Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, as an example of a poem, which, as he described in an interview with me on Nth Position (and here), is “striking in terms of imagery, metaphor and thematic complexity.” The former detainee (he was released from Guantánamo in December 2006) is described as follows in an introduction to the poem:
“Ibrahim al-Rubaish was teaching in Pakistan when he was arrested by mercenaries and sold to allied forces. A religious scholar who dislikes hostility and was once a candidate for a judgeship, Rubaish has a daughter, born just three months before he was captured, who is now five years old. During a military administrative hearing, he was told, ‘If you are considered to be a continued threat, you will be detained. If you are not considered a threat, we will recommend release. Why should we consider releasing you?’ Rubaish’s response was, ‘In the world of international courts, the person is innocent until proven guilty. Why, here, is the person guilty until proven innocent?’”
ODE TO THE SEA
By Ibrahim al-Rubaish
O sea, give me news of my loved ones.
Were it not for the chains of the faithless, I would have dived into you,
And reached my beloved family, or perished in your arms.
Your beaches are sadness, captivity, pain, and injustice.
Your bitterness eats away at my patience.
Your calm is like death, your sweeping waves are strange.
The silence that rises up from you holds treachery in its fold.
Your stillness will kill the captain if it persists,
And the navigator will drown in your waves.
Gentle, deaf, mute, ignoring, angrily storming,
You carry graves.
If the wind enrages you, your injustice is obvious.
If the wind silences you, there is just the ebb and flow.
O sea, do our chains offend you?
It is only under compulsion that we daily come and go.
Do you know our sins?
Do you understand we were cast into this gloom?
O sea, you taunt us in our captivity.
You have colluded with our enemies and you cruelly guard us.
Don’t the rocks tell you of the crimes committed in their midst?
Doesn’t Cuba, the vanquished, translate its stories for you?
You have been beside us for three years, and what have you gained?
Boats of poetry on the sea; a buried flame in a burning heart.
The poet’s words are the font of our power;
His verse is the salve for our pained hearts.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.
Beautiful, touching and such a good reminder to all of us.. may Allah not let his words have been in vain and allow us to take heed, learn and take action.. the men who have done no wrong yet suffer for their deen – they are our role models, they are our heroes.. let these heroes be known and their words resound throughout the ummah..
[...] Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a religious scholar who was arrested in Pakistan, apostrophises the oceans that separate him from his home. Nevertheless, his poem and this book ends on a realisation of the importance of the act of versification. “The poet’s words are the font of our power/His verse is the salve for our pained hearts.” Not only for himself, but for all who read his words. [...]
Talent and creativity arise when it is most needed and this poem is an example of deep literature that arose in circumstances where none of us could ever comprehend. May these words live forever and may your patience be a key to your heaven.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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