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
and strategizing hope
waiting for the end of war
the price of bread and potatoes
and the cost of words
the concerns of global warming
and conspiracy theories
while Ebola butterflies
tickle the nose of their imagination
until they laugh
their only consolation
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
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
somebody lifts his eyes for a moment
leaning forward to check on the loud noises
bury his gray beard
again in his new iPhone.
From Inliquid.org 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.