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Dareen Tatour

A Poet Behind Bars ​

Translated by Tariq al Haydar


In prison, I met people

too numerous to count:

Killer and criminal,

thief and liar,

the honest and those who disbelieve,

the lost and confused,

the wretched and the hungry.

Then, the sick of my homeland,

born out of pain,

refused to go along with injustice

until they became children whose innocence was violated.

The world’s compulsion left them stunned.

They grew older.

No, their sadness grew,

strengthening with repression,

like roses in salted soil.

They embraced love without fear,

and were condemned, not

for their deeds, but for declaring,

“We love the land endlessly,”

So their love freed them.

See, prison is for lovers.

I interrogated my soul

during moments of doubt and distraction:

“What of your crime?”

Its meaning escapes me now.

I said the thing and

revealed my thoughts;

I wrote about the current injustice,

wishes in ink,

a poem I wrote…

The charge has worn my body,

from my toes to the top of my head,

for I am a poet in prison,

a poet in the land of art.

I am accused of words,

my pen the instrument.

Ink— blood of the heart— bears witness

and reads the charges.

Listen, my destiny, my life,

to what the judge said:

A poem stands accused,

my poem morphs into a crime.

In the land of freedom,

the artist’s fate is prison.

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