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The SPACE Poetry Hotline – April: “If I Must Die,” by Refaat Alareer

This month’s poem in the 2024 SPACE Poetry Hotline series is “If I Must Die” by the Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer, read by Fateh Azzam. Call 207-828-5607 through April 30 2024, to hear Fateh read the poem.

Refaat Alareer (1979–2023) was a professor of world literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza and the editor of Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine (2013). He was killed by an IDF airstrike on December 6, 2023, along with his brother, nephew, his sister, and three of her children.

Fateh Azzam (author) was born in Beirut, his parents having fled Palestine in April 1948. He began work in theater in Maine as a mime, before moving to Boston in 1980 to work as an actor and choreographer. In 1985 he moved to Ramallah and was administrative director of the Nuzha – El Hakawati theatre in East Jerusalem. He returned to returned to Maine in 2016 after a 35-year international career in human rights advocacy that spanned work in NGOs, philanthropy, academia and the United Nations. He was a Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and an Affiliate at the Middle East Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School, and the former director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship and Senior Policy Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Relations, both at the American University in Beirut. He led the process of establishing the Arab Human Rights Fund.

In 2024, Fateh co-produced and co-directed a stage production of The Gaza Monologues, originally written and produced by teenagers in Gaza in 2010, with students from Bowdoin College and Portland Public Schools. It was performed to two sold-out audiences at SPACE.

If I Must Die

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze —
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself —
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above,
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love.
If I must die
let it bring hope,
let it be a story.

Si he de morir

Si he de morir
tú has de vivir
pa’ contar mi historia
pa’ vender mis cosas
pa’ comprar un trozo de tela
y unos cordeles,
(hazla blanca con una larga cola)
pa’ que un niño en alguna parte de Gaza
al mirar el ojo del cielo
mientras espera a su padre que partió en una llamarada—
y no se despidió de nadie
ni siquiera de su propia carne,
ni siquiera de sí mismo—
vea tu cometa, la cometa que me hiciste,
volando en lo alto
y piense por un instante
que ahí está un ángel
devolviéndole el amor.
Si he de morir
que inspire esperanza
que sea una historia.

*Spanish translation by D.P. Snyder via

The 2024 Poetry Hotline is a screenless exhibition available to anyone with access to a phone. The 2024 Poetry Hotline offers audiences a direct line to Maine-based and national poets and their visions for the future, and another medium to connect and inspire audiences with heartache, love, humor, rage, and regeneration. 

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