With his skill as a psychiatrist, Dr. Hussam Jefee-Bahloul is reaching out to the troubled people of his Syrian homeland, offering guidance for health workers who work with mental health issues in a population traumatized by war.

And with his love of words, he tries to capture his longing for his homeland in poetry.

Born in Lattakia, Syria, in 1983 and now a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, he has published two books of poems in Arabic: The Opener of Canned Hope and Bird Smoking Marijuana. He has also founded Ta-Sheeq, a project that poetry with art and music in choreographed performances.

The poem "Cloud-Cafe" appears in his collection Bird Smoking Marijuana. It was translated into English by Samantha Kostmayer and Hussam Jefee-Bahloul and is reprinted with his permission.


There, at the entrance of the chest

between a throat and a tongue

stands a long line of humans

workers in morose clothing

restless with weary faces

making plans

and strategizing hope

waiting for the end of war

frightened by

the price of bread and potatoes

and the cost of words

amused by

the concerns of global warming

and conspiracy theories

while Ebola butterflies

tickle the nose of their imagination

until they laugh

their only consolation

a cigarette

and ashes that drown entire cities

And when break-time is over

they draw crosses and middle fingers

with the coal of time

on the walls of the lung

and return to work

This is how the years of war pass


by one

falling like calendar pages

fueling his grandiose plans

the lumberjack of lives

the bookkeeper of martyrs

he who answers the prayers of the dead

who with one hand

places medals on Generals

while with the other

writes on clouds his poetry of lament

This is how the years of war pass


nothing changes but the order of numbers

and the faith of those who chant in the streets

while up there

in "cloud-café"

somebody lifts his eyes for a moment

leaning forward to check on the loud noises

from below

only to

bury his gray beard

again in his new iPhone.

Source NPR.ORG


From coverage of ta'sheeq performance in Philadelphia January 2017.

" ... [Amina] Ahmed explains that she is “trying to make work that is beautiful and transformative, but also a response to the world.” She identifies the genocide in Darfur as the initial impulse behind the project. She revisited the project recently with the renewed relevance of the Syrian Civil War, which she calls a “continuation of suffering.” “When Syria was a tomb, there was a noose over it,” says Ahmed. “How could one have a noose over a tomb?” Thinking about the sheer number of lives lost, Ahmed asks, how does an artist process this? As people bound together by bearing witness, how do we grieve?

At the exhibit’s closing reception on January 13th, Ahmed’s art merged with the words of Syrian poets Hussam Jefee and Alma Nizam, sounds of Philadelphia-based Syrian cellist Kinan Abou-afach, and video art of Syrian visual artist Khalil Younes . Jefee and Nizam are members of Ta’sheeq, a Syrian poetry collective formed in May 2016. For Jefee, performance is “an act of bearing witness.” Collaboration with visual artists and musicians is central to Ta’sheeq’s practice. Ahmed met Jefee at Ta’sheeq’s performance in New York City and suggested they collaborate as part of I Bear Witness.

First Jefee, and then Nizam, stood to the left of Ahmed’s red grave. Abou-afach sat with his cello to the right. Jefee and Nizam spoke primarily in Arabic. English translations were projected onto a screen against the gallery wall, spliced by the dangling red noose. Their elegiac poems wove together with the cello’s lament in an improvisatory back and forth between forms. Some phrases that linger: “this is how the years of war pass” (Jefee, “Cloud Cafe”); “flesh lying next to you” (Nizam, “Eulogy 35”); “the city awaits the day that never comes” (Nizam, “October 30th”). Ta’sheeq’s articulations of suffering resonated strongly with Ahmed’s work; at moments, it seemed that their words became enfleshed by Ahmed’s textile bodies.

The emotional and material density of the performance thickened with the addition of Khalil Youne’s film, Syria (2011), at the end of Jefee’s reading. Not much happens in the film. It shows a finger tip being pricked and stitched with a needle and thread. At the end, a button is sewn onto the flesh. But it is shot so close up that the fingertip becomes a vast textured world in which the viewer can almost feel the image with their eyes. It’s painful to behold (“A box of pins guarantees a nice flow of pain,” Jefee read in English, “marry a European and you can go home.”) The pain of the prick gets rearticulated and remixed in the soundtrack of gunshots and cries. Though the soundtrack was dropped in the performance at the reception, to better hear the cello, it can be heard in full online."- (By Hannah Selzer)



Voice of America

In Voice Of America- Kurdish. Coverage of ta'sheeq performance at Alwan Center for the Arts in NYC, October 2016.