It’s evening. Usually Refaat would be walking
down the steps of the Gaza-Jerusalem train,
his face lit at the edges by his visit,
as it was by language, by jokes, by love,
by his village as he walked home from the train station,
by the pizza of Chicago,
by Leo Messi possibling the impossible,
by truth hiding in poems like a strawberry seed,
backlit, difficult to isolate.

It’s evening, usually Refaat would be walking,
his feet talking to the land & the land to his feet,
leaning on an olive stick, his beard white.
But now he’s received his last assignment
& is saying goodbye, an old man in his bed.

Death hasn’t been privatized, we each still have one:
Henry Kissinger’s came to him when he was young,
in the parallel world in which gesture is followed
by recompense, One, Two.
Henry Kissinger was making coffee
in a penthouse overlooking a besieged city,
overlooking villages he’d ordered burned,
half asleep in his pajamas,
& before the coffee could wake him, its flame
had caught him by the sleeve.
He died half asleep, a young man trying
to remember how to run, to remember who’d told him
whether one could outrun fire or no,
& as he lay on the parquet, the ash
he was becoming translated into
the ash he’d created outside,
& someone screwed up the coordinates
& misdelivered the message he’d meant for someone else,
& the building in which he was trying to wake up
became a pile of stones & smoke,
& the burned body of Henry Kissinger
lay under the rubble for days.

Goodbye, says Refaat, his eyes closing,
Don’t forget to respect the power of language.
His bed is surrounded by the answers to his gestures,
his not murdered siblings, his not exiled ancestors,
his children, his students, his nieces & grand-nieces
laughing at how strong he still is.
When the darkness is almost complete, he sits up
& recites his last poem. When I lived, it begins,
in Shuj’aiyya, in Gaza, when I took the train
to Jerusalem & back home, once Palestine was free.

Author’s Note: Refaat Alareer was a beloved Palestinian professor, poet, and translator, from a neighborhood in the east of Gaza called Shuja’iyya. His brother, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and three nieces were murdered by the Israeli army in Gaza 2014. In December 2023 the Israeli army murdered Refaat himself, in his sister’s house, along with his brother, his sister, and her four children. On April 26 the Israeli army murdered Refaat’s eldest daughter Shaimaa, to whom his well-known poem “If I Must Die” is addressed, beside her husband and Refaat’s newborn grandson. Khalas.