Ode to Poet—Saleem Al Naffar and the Spirit of ‘Sumud’

Within life’s colorful weave, versifier Saleem Al Naffar stood as a beacon of national pride, revered for his boundless generosity, approachable spirit, unwavering humility, and a contagious sense of humor that could light up the darkest of moments. Emerging from the heartache of a displaced family in Jaffa, Saleem embarked on a literary odyssey, honing his craft at Tishreen University in Syria.

As a steadfast member of the Palestinian Writers Union, Saleem’s pen weaved tales that echoed the resilience of his people. Fate, however, took an unexpected turn when he sought refuge in Al-Nasr Neighborhood in Gaza City. Tragically, his haven became a target, and beneath the rubble, Saleem, alongside cherished family members, got buried. But despite his tragic end, Saleem’s literary legacy continues to shine.

For the first time, three poems by Gazan poet and novelist Saleem Al Naffar (1963 – 2023) were translated by his colleague Muhammad Jihad Ismael.

In his poem titled “Life,” Saleem Al Naffar describes how endless violence cannot stop new life from emerging. The wordsmith looks at cycles of brutality as signposts for the next generation that will exist beyond it inevitably. Sumud or steadfastness is a constant factor in Palestinians resisting persecution. Life is a statement to that unwavering belief in freedom.

In “Departure,” the poet imagines a time when the meaninglessness of persecution comes to a close. The poet is located in a present where the siege is drawing closer. But that doesn’t take away from the future where this brutality is only a memory.

In the final poem of this translated series, “O My Lovers,” the poet calls on a time when the truth is finally revealed, and the stories “of stolen homes, diaspora/ and sorrows of our herdsmen” are finally told. The earth itself approaches healing at the dawn of freedom.

Returning to the courage provided by steadfastness, Saleem Al Naffar proclaims, “His promise is enduring/ that we’ll return/ even if our night is long.” 

The poet doesn’t rely on human metrics of hope but bases his expectations in the transcendental promise of God. In light of this promise, the present is only a moment in waiting, time itself is invested in setting the world aright.

The poet speaks to the restless desire for justice, “We’ll come one day, O lovers/ Right will speak slowly/ so do not delay the dream/ nor hurry time.” 

There is an acknowledgement of the path being long. Yet, the truth prevails despite extended tragedy, beyond human conceptions of time.

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