Fourteen Poems from Loneliness Spoils its Victims

Dara Abdallah

Illustration by Shuxian Lee


This might sound crazy, but isn't war nostalgic for singularity, loneliness, purity, and solitude? Isn't killing others considered "cleansing"? War is a mechanical rubbing between groups that are fighting to translate the collectivities' desire to be composed of individuals. War is the aggressive application of an instinctual longing for a purified heavenly world where the inhabitants are pseudo-elements, and quietness is an echo of loneliness. Who among us remembers the faces of those killed in massacres: in Halabja, Karm Al-Zaytoun, and Sabra and Shatila—where the hands of hundreds and thousands got together to jump from one shore to another. Their beating hearts and united breath might redeem the tragedy of a solitary individual. During a massacre, the killer misses out on the pleasure of killing one individual at a time. In massacres, hundreds of names decay, while one victim becomes a star: loneliness spoils its victims.

Praising "Fear"

Why despise "fear"? Zealous writing that glorifies "heroism" and "sacrifices" and "blood" recharges a violent and masculine symbolic language. A text filled with heroism is a suffocating lung. Heroism kills the space of longing that exists between reader and writer; it is like two people speaking to each other with their mouths glued together. A language that speaks of killing happily and cheerfully will one day justify killing. It is necessary to both humanize emotions and take them from the infinite and immutable to the historical, in order to limit the reproduction of dictatorships.

The white sheet is a writer's confession chair, like the sea for a lover, like the priest for a guilty believer. Writing is like forgetting, a grand motherhood, so why pretend?

After a short and ungenerous experience in security cells, my "barrier of fear" is now doubled and thickened. Since then, I am now scared of opening doors, scared of whoever knocks on my door; every time I open a door, I live out a few nerve-wracking minutes. I fear state police and traffic police and soldiers and bearded men with shaved heads. I see prisons as places of humiliation, not stages of heroism. We need writings filled with defeat and evanescence.


The freedom to use "freedom" against you. Their freedom is a restriction for you. Freedom is the greatest pain for someone who escaped oppression looking for freedom in the land of freedom . . . !

Memory of Garbage

Here in Germany, everything gets recycled; the spoon you eat with might have been a gun in the hand of a fighter in Syria, a hoop in a teenager's ear, or the hoof of a horse in Denmark.

After your death, what will be your transformation?

From the Non-Existence of Freedom to the Freedom of Non-Existence

A small key opened the door of the grand jail. The time between the prisoners' place and "the neighborhood of palaces" is like the dusk separating sleep from vigilance. A few seconds separate a place where people die slowly and silently from a place filled with fancy life. The cars are parked by the roadside like sleeping turtles. I looked to the sky, and felt dizzy—taken by how high things stand away from the earth. There are no dimensions in prison. I discovered while walking that the space between my thighs had grown. I asked a passing girl in the street for the time. She got scared and walked away as if she had seen a mythical creature. I examined my face in the mirror of a parked car. I scared myself, like an old man going back and forth, dying under a glowing lamp. A return to the first limbo, my breaths are fast and interrupted. I hear a strong creaking sound from my breast, like the growling of iron getting rusted off. Taxis refuse to stop.

After more than half an hour, a cab pulled over. I told the driver to take me to Maysat Square. The blood on the back of my right hand looked like a lake of red frost. He asked me if I had been in prison. I said yes. A period of silence passed. I looked at his tired features; a tear was sitting on his right cheek. The path of that tear left an impression on me. Like the deep groove left by a river in the heart of earth. It is a defeat.

Unlike when one arrives, one does not leave prison in one piece. The final release takes a lot out of you. The first night at home, you do not dare to fully stretch out on your bed. I could not stay in the bathroom for more than thirty seconds. For three hours, I watched football games from the Arab Gulf. At four in the morning, I was about to break into tears and ask them to return me to prison. I am not good for anything but being a prisoner.

Sentences Stuck in My Head; Written on Solitary Cell No. 1 in Al-Khatib Prison

- Thirty days for clicking "like" on Al-Jazeera's Facebook page.
- Today my family was informed that I am still alive. My dad broke down in tears after I called him from court, using the policeman's cellphone. He told me that they had set up a tent for my funeral. They thought that I was martyred. I am alive in prison, dead outside.
- The killer, father of death 17-7-2011.
- Listen to silence carefully. Abu Khaled Al-Sa'our.
- Crushing flowers will not delay the arrival of spring. Abu Khaled Al-Sa'our.
- I passed by here.
- If you want to write on the wall, there is a nail under the cardboard in the right corner. Return it to its place when you have finished writing.


It is impossible for everyone to agree; there is nothing in the world without its opposite. Nothingness is the only intersecting point in existence.


In all of written history, I've never encountered greater events than these that take place in closed rooms. Historians do not know that world history is concealed in rooms.


Change should go beyond the political regime and reach the structure of language. We have to rid language of militaristic expressions. Stilted and populist language will produce a new authoritarian regime.

The Killer's Fear

The killer suffers from neurotic anxiety. Every mistake is a small mistake that cannot be erased without a greater mistake and so forth to infinity.

The Smoke of Words

A big glass box filled with an infinite number of small paper clippings. Take a handful of them and align the words. It will give you your life story (note that these words are the words you always repeat). Do not burn the box. The smoke of it will suffocate the world; it will kill people with their own words.

The Smell of Oppression

A group of drunk men stormed into a cell one evening, in Damascus's military headquarters. One took a piece of paper out of his pocket, called out a number of names, and asked them to get ready for their last rites because their death sentences had just been issued. There was a fearful humming in the room. Anxious noise spread among the prisoners. The chosen ones made their ablutions and prayed. One of them rolled up in a corner and started crying. Another asked if they could tell his oldest son to take good care of his mother.

The prisoners were taken to the prison's yard. Their faces were turned to the wall. The soldiers loaded their Kalashnikovs and shot in the air; they thought it was fun. One of the still-alive dead had an explosive panic attack every time he heard the gun getting loaded.

At times of extreme anxiety and psychological breakdown, one's insides get all loosened up, including the colon. One of the survivors of the fake massacre, one of those still-alive dead, had his insides loosen up the moment they fired.

The smell of vodka that came from these drunk soldiers ground the "secularity" of the regime against "Islamist extremists." The smell of alcohol means the smell of authority and oppression. That night, the smell of the prisoner's shit overcame the smell of the vodka.

Space in Prison

A "paving stone" is the unit of time in prison. The more "stones" you have, the longer you've been in prison. Those who have spent the most time in prison are most comfortable, for they have the most space. The most comfortable is the most measurable. The paving stone is a measuring unit of pain. The only place where time is measured by space is in prison. One of the old prisoners confessed to me that when he builds his new home, the floor will be one big block. He will not allow the stone to be divided, in revenge of his memory.

Fading Dimensions

The floor of the prison's corridor is a sleeping wall, and the holes are windows. I never knew that these holes were like graves—like the hollowed imprints that acne leaves on the faces of teenagers. On the way from the group cell to the investigation room in Al-Khatib prison in Damascus, the whiteness of an eye was shining in the darkness of one of those holes. I was sure then that the sleeping wall contained humans.

The size of each grave is designed carefully and accurately. Its length does not allow for a body to be fully stretched out, and its lack of width makes it hard for one to roll up like a fetus. In limbo between comfort and exhaustion, even tiredness is not allowed as every pain brings a partial comfort. That hole was the biggest violation of the graves' dignity.

One of the prisoners in Doma is transferred from a solitary cell to a group cell after spending six months alone. His eyes fear light and his body is thin. His words are heavy because his tongue has forgotten the positions of the vowels. Great swellings stand out on his body like the heads of creatures that have escaped from the depths.

A handshake costs him a social embarrassment and a strong mental effort. He watches his hand raid the emptiness of space. It shakes, like the needle of a compass before it declares a direction. His hand gets closer to the other's hand. A massive physical failure. He tries several times and fails. He tells himself: "Shit! It no longer works." He has lost his ability to measure distance, the depth of matter, and the thickness of things. I was watching how he was watching himself. And how he suffers from a "lack of distance," "his unbearable heavy lightness," and his senses that are no longer senses.

translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem