Tawfiq Zayyad (1929-1994) was a Palestinian poet, a member of the Knesset and the elected mayor of Nazareth from 1975-1994. As a leader of the Israeli Communist Party, he represented both Jewish and Arab working-class communities, and was the spokesman for a secular and egalitarian political tradition opposed to both Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism. Zayyad was arrested and imprisoned several times by the Israeli authorities and on one occasion he was tortured. His report on Israeli prison conditions and the use of torture on Palestinian prisoners was later quoted in a UN General Assembly report. He published several books of poetry, including I Clasp Your Hands, Songs of the Revolution and Anger and Fighting Words. Many of his poems were turned into well-known popular songs. Recognised today as one of the leading poets of his generation – alongside writers like Mahmoud Darwish, Hanna Abu and Salem Jubran – Zayyad translated Nazm Hikmet into Arabic and published a book about Palestinian folk-lore. He died in a car-crash in 1994 on his way to Nazareth after welcoming Yasser Arafat back from exile.
Combining traditional Arabic verse-forms and free-verse, We Are Here to Stay some of his best-known poems about the Nakba, about life under military occupation, discrimination, imprisonment and land-seizures, as well as poems about family and love. Written with characteristic defiance, grace and wisdom.
Bilingual English-Arab edition, published to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba.
We are like a multitude of impossibilities In Led, Ramleh and Galilea. Here we will stay, a weight on your heart, Like a wall. In your throats, We are like a piece of glass, like a prickly pear. And in your eyes, We are a fire storm. We are here to stay, like a wall over your chests. We clean the dishes in bars We fill the glasses of the masters, We sweep the floors in the black kitchens, To provide for our children, Ripped from within your blue jaws Here we will stay, over your chests, like a wall, We endure hunger and thirst; we are defiant. We recite poetry, We fill the angry streets with demonstrations, We fill the prisons with pride. We make children, one revolted generation after another, Like a multitude of impossibilities, In Led, Ramleh and Galilea. We are here to stay, So, drink the sea. We protect the shade of the fig and olive trees, We implant ideas like yeast in the dough, Our nerves are cold like ice While hell’s fire burns in our hearts. We press the rocks to quench our thirst, We eat dirt when we are hungry, but we won’t leave! We generously give our precious blood, generously, generously! Here is our past, our present and our future. *** We are like a multitude of impossibilities, In Led, Ramleh and Galilea. We hold fast to your origins, Our roots are deep down in the ground. It would be better for the oppressor to revise his accounts, Before the thread comes undone. (For every action), read, What is written in the book!
I implore you, I shake your hands, I kiss the ground on which you tread, And I say: I will redeem you. I offer you my eyesight, The warmth of my heart I give you. The tragedy I endure is my share of your plight. I appeal to you, I shake your hands. I did not disparage my homeland, Neither did I yield. I confronted my gaolers, alone, naked, and barefoot. My hand was bleeding, Yet, I did not give up. I maintained the grass over my forefathers’ tombs. I implore you; I shake your hands!
I would have loved to turn things around in a second, To eradicate tyranny, And burn every usurper *** To make the poorest of the poor Eat off gold and diamond plates To parade in silk and gold trousers, To demolish his hut and raise him *** I would have loved if I could, To turn the world upside down in a second. But things are stronger than desires and anger. You are consumed by your loss of patience, Did it lead you to your goal? Resist my beloved people, Be patient as you face tragedies. Aim at the sun With nerves of steel. Your arms can achieve the most beautiful dreams And the most amazing things.
Toss chains over chains A chain is weaker than my forearms. My people’s love My cherished struggle and my resistance, Are the source of the determination That burns in my blood, It is the fire that devours terrible concerns. My poems pour The cup of humiliation over your troops, And rub their faces in the mud, While I raise my head, And fill their eyes with my spit. My resentment of this slave’s life. You, disfigured, coward, freak. The warning sounds of the engine is deafening. Do not think that the iron chain link Can crush the lions’ ardour.
Plant me like a red lily on your chests, On all entrances. Hug me like a green meadow, One that cries, prays and fights. Use me as a boat made of rosewood, And the leaves of thickets. I am the voice of the town crier, I am the guide of the caravans. My blood is made of flowers and sun And the waves of grain spikes I am a volcano of growth and youth. My cheers are torches. Oh People! I give you my life, My song, And I will always fight. Come then, with your hands, Your picks, Let’s demolish injustice To build a free and just future. Children, oh green basil, Oh flock of nightingales. For you we saved the roots of figs, olives, And the rocks. For you we protected the houses. Oh unhappy people Oh struggle people, Those flags will not fall, So long as we sing and fight, A country that dreams of bread and books, Of an honest living and tranquillity.
They hanged us, a whole nation, on the cross, They want us to repent. This is not the end of the world, Neither are we slaves. So, dry your tears Bury the dead, And stand up again. Oh, sad people, You are the world You are the only source of good. You are History, And the smiling future, In this world. Come, let’s hold hands, And walk over the flames, The future of the free, no matter how remote, It will happen soon.
‘an inspiring demonstration of how the language of poetry can rise to meet the challenge of its times.’