Samih al-Qasim: The Last Train

The great Palestinian writer Samih al-Qasim has died. While known primarily as a poet, al-Qasim was also a talented essayist, writing regularly in the Arabic-language press of Palestine/Israel. He was also a remarkable public speaker and letter writer. His correspondence with Mahmoud Darwish instantly became a classic of Arabic epistolary literature. Truly unique in the modern canon, they are not just monuments to poetry and language, but also friendship and love.

al-Qasim addressed the following "letter" (from 1990) to the memory of a talented Palestinian poet, Rashid Hussein, whose tragic death in 1977 greatly impacted the poets of that generation. No less than the letters to Darwish, this missive shows al-Qassim at his most profound. 


Rashid, my brother —

Believe it or not, but after all this time separated from one another, you may find it hard to recognize me when you stand there on the station platform, waiting for me to arrive on the last train.

I will see you when I step off that train. You will be the tallest one in the crowd waiting at the station. I will call out your name and you will come running, cigarette in mouth, as always. You will stop and stand off a bit and ask, “Is this really you? What did you do with your mad childhood? From which fire did you inherit this gray ash on your temples?”

I will tell you, “I have made my peace with death. I have swallowed the bitter colocynth of wisdom to its dregs.”

And I will say to you, “I still grieve your death.”

And you, typical of you, will try to comfort me as I mourn your passing.

(The rest can be found here)