In contrast to my more abstruse, self-consciously "complex" poems, this one did exactly what the people wanted--it articulated in the clearest way the distances between Palestinian experience and American experience, broadly considered. It reminded me how critical the context of one's utterances, and how something that could be considered "good poetry" could be seen as something not quite graspable to an audience hungering to have their stories told and heard, and how something that would never be accepted in a literary journal would be exactly appropriate to the occasion.
When I discovered the music version and video by Outlandish, I was stunned to see the pop sensibility merged with the protest of the original, and how it adds the hope for coexistence with Israelis in ways that the poem does not. Finally, I add a another poem by Gihad Ali, which to my mind feels much less successful in its hectoring of the "American," just for a point of contrast.
Words to Look Into My EyesThe following is the text of:
Gihad Ali, a volunteer with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) and the Palestine Solidarity Group, both in Chicago, wrote a poem called "Eye to Eye" a couple of years ago. She has since performed this poem dozens of times, including at performances such as "Women Warriors" at the Chicago Cultural Center, the AAAN's Cafe Intifada, and "Mixin' It Up," a project of the Chicago Field Museum's Cultural Connections program.
Danish rap group, Outlandish, based its single, "Look Into My Eyes," on Gihad's poem. Their album, "Closer Than Veins," was released on October 31st, and "Look Into My Eyes," which was the first single from the album, reached NUMBER 1 on the national airplay hitlist in Denmark.
Eye to Eye - by Gihad Ali
Look into my eyes
and tell me what you see.
You don't see a damn thing,
`cause you can't possibly relate to me.
You're blinded by our differences.
My life makes no sense to you.
I'm the persecuted Palestinian.
You're the American red, white and blue.
Each day you wake in tranquility.
No fears to cross your eyes.
Each day I wake in gratitude.
Thanking God He let me rise.
You worry about your education
and the bills you have to pay.
I worry about my vulnerable life
and if I'll survive another day.
Your biggest fear is getting ticketed
as you cruise your Cadillac.
My fear is that the tank that just left
will turn around and come back.
American, do you realize,
that the taxes that you pay
feed the forces that traumatize
my every living day?
The bulldozers and the tanks,
the gases and the guns,
the bombs that fall outside my door,
all due to American funds.
Yet do you know the truth
of where your money goes?
Do you let your media deceive your mind?
Is this a truth that no one knows?
You blame me for defending myself
against the ways of Zionists.
I'm terrorized in my own land
and I'm the terrorist?
You think you know all about terrorism
but you don't know it the way I do.
So let me define the term for you.
And teach you what you thought you knew.
I've known terrorism for quite some time,
fifty-four years and more.
It's the fruitless garden uprooted in my yard.
It's the bulldozer in front of my door.
Terrorism breathes the air I breathe.
It's the checkpoint on my way to school.
It's the curfew that jails me in my own home,
and the penalties of breaking that curfew rule.
Terrorism is the robbery of my land.
And the torture of my mother.
The imprisonment of my innocent father.
The bullet in my baby brother.
So American, don't tell me you know about
the things I feel and see.
I'm terrorized in my own land
and the blame is put on me.
But I will not rest, I shall never settle
for the injustice my people endure.
Palestine is our land and there we'll remain
until the day our homeland is secure.
And if that time shall never come,
then you will never see a day of peace.
I will not be thrown from my own home,
nor will my fight for justice cease.
And if I am killed, it will be in Falasteen.
It's written on my every breath.
So in your own patriotic words,
Give me liberty or give me death.