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Ode to Mennel Ibtissam singing “Hallelujah” on The Voice (France), translated in Arabic

By George Abraham

with thanks to Marwa Helal*

maybe  if , ash &    smolder way the  –   tongue      own my in         never but song       this heard i've
there’s  –  it birthed who      fire the not &       gospel  become can , mouth     right the in       seen
a  , arabic your of fall       minor the  – flame       still is , core its at       which , prayer bluest your
god  finds , tremor    oud shrieks    country a     , somewhere  –  before     us failed     has which flag
above      throne his builds     man a       , somewhere – fifth the      , fourth the – lungs      tenor on
all  , earth        still –  lullaby into      them writes & song      ceaseless their    claims , undoing the
i’ve  ,yes  –  tongues     moonlit in , brash , spoke     who children of       empty     , streets marble
ever you  –  handed-       bloody , doves the      twinned – history this from    devil the     archangel-ed
learned  we     land the somewhere  –   song its in    voice your    lose you’d     much so country a   love
from  skyward &     permanent   , contour memorized     every  –  inherited we       land the also is
love  to   me teach    , Mennel –  from     came they birds    metal the to up back    hurling not-bombs
was  always      history our    , sing  you because      – another unmothering       without country a
how  –  you in     translation       refused revolution the       : unwinged paradise       – march victory
to  sent &      bleached i arabic an      , this –  hollow &      fullthroated us      demand ,ي&   ا its 
shoots english        –  days these        alive      me keep can words        few so because      , colonizer a
somebody’s   like      , confident        speak to      me demands & teeth       my down arrows       cold
who   arabic your , first     , was it  –  throat   my in    itself of   home a    make didn’t    fist  broken**
– outdrew    prayer from     ,to singing    worth god a made     –  key major a in       Hallelujah’ed
  – throat your in                organ the            , Hallelujah                     
    –   resurrect     lungs your       Palestine the      , Hallelujah                                             
       – you through       running     dead     restless of     choir the      , Hallelujah                        
    – stone &       wind its     , earth this of you    , Hallelujah

– you of       sound the at     trembling       breathing everything


*Rules of engagement: if the poem is to be read from right to left, it is to be observed unredacted. If the poem is to be read from left to right, the reader must impose redactions of the English language. If the poem is to be read down its right and/or left margins, it is to be sung in Mennel’s voice. 

هي ليست بصرخة .. تسمعها ليلاً وليس بشخصٍ ما قد رأى النوم**



NOTE: This poem was written in response to French Morrocan singer Mennel Ibtissam, who auditioned for The Voice (France) with a translation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in Arabic. Shortly after the competition, her video for the audition went viral and subsequently, white nationalists found her social media, stalked, and harassed her for tweets critiquing French Islamophobia and tweets critiquing Israel's occupation of Palestine. Thereafter, she was doxxed and harassed into quitting the competition. 




Listen as George Abraham reads "Ode to Mennel Ibtissam singing Hallelujah on The Voice (France), translated in Arabic."

Note: A footnote in Arabic appears for the poem which is intentionally unread in the recording in alignment with the poem's form.

Added: Friday, October 16, 2020  /  Used with permission.
George Abraham
Photo by Katytarika Bartel.

George Abraham is a Palestinian American poet from Jacksonville, FL. They are the author of the debut poetry collection Birthright (Button Poetry, 2020), as well as the chapbooks the specimen's apology (Sibling Rivalry Press) and al youm (The Atlas Review). They are a board member for the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI), winner of the Best Poet title from the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational, and a recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and The Boston Foundation. Their work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, West Branch, Mizna, and elsewhere. He is currently based in Somerville, MA, where he is a Bioengineering PhD candidate at Harvard University, and teaches in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. To learn more, visit George's website.

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