my world as it was, is no more
it has wedged itself inside a suitcase
as the world outside declares its sympathy,
a mere fallacy,
the connivance of history and treachery
agents of injustice
conspiring to smother me with
the plastic bags my stuff is in,
the new rulers efforts to resolve the situation
as strong as the cardboard box holding
my children’s schoolbooks
their words as gentle as the thorns
on the roads I’m forced to walk,
as soft as the nails our clothes hang on
the language of officials
as beguiling as the smell of leather
on a hot summer day,
as soothing as salt on our wounds;
their gestures as entertaining
as watching drones
destroy your home



Half a life and twice as much pain
a tale of sorrows
a coil of memories
twisted, left to rot
-to hang me
in a dark night of despair
a lonely road to perdition
led down this path of madness
lay me down to sleep
in the wilds of the deep blue
sky or sea
it matters not to me
let me sink slowly
into death’s open arms
it desires me, you do not
or let the wind
carry me to rest among the clouds
shape my coffin out of the softness
tell the world I am gone forever
grieve if you like
it makes no difference to me


to find a friendly pulse
within the world’s chaotic heart
a beat that echoes
my own throes
a gentle touch on a wrist
like a cool misty morning in the Libyan summer

to sink into a warm embrace
within the arms of mankind
on a bed of purple lavender
a pool of empathy
washing over me
like an ocean of solace to a sorrow laden heart

to hear words of peace murmured
by a dying fighter’s lips
amid the battle cries of war
a zephyr of forgiveness
resuscitating hope
like a rush of oxygen to a drowning brain


Our ship has entered stormy waters
the currents are extreme
the deep dark blue is waiting
to swallow ship and men alike
the sailors are divided
the captain is gone
the winds are tearing us apart
from the South they seek to melt
the hardened hearts, the hatred felt
from the North and the East
they whirl us into a dervish dance
we twist and twirl, spinning
reaching out
palm to palm, a sign of peace
a Western wind, icy cold
blows in between our Libyan hands.
For us no landing on warm sands-
no road to safety, no map to home

My eye, do not weep

My eye, do not weep for those who are dead;
weep for those sleeping on prison beds.

Lonely, yearning for family and friends,
cruelty, torture – their final ends.

Their freedom depending on political bends,
approving, censuring – changing trends.

Their sacrifice and courage to history lends,
rebels? dissidents? – as the trial pends.

When freed, if freed, no kindness mends
the pain, the fear – the message it sends:

Be silent, be mute, about all that tends
to freedom. Or terror your family rends.

(Previously published in the Tripoli Post in 2007)

The first two lines of this poem are from a Libyan folk song. In Libyan poetry tradition (that goes back centuries), a poet would challenge other poets by composing a poem then daring them to ‘build’ upon the first stanza. Of course, that’s done in the Libyan dialect, but I thought I’d try it in English.
This is dedicated to all those Libyans who resist and fight injustice, whose weapons are their words and their pens. For every Libyan past and present.

The new Libyan

a new Libyan is born today
Allahu Akbar, hip hip hurray
the new ruler arrives make way
clean the streets, hang the banners
freedom is yours
to mindlessly celebrate

wash the blood, wipe the tears
smile, put away your fears
salute, fire bullets in the air
weep with joy – or despair
teach the world how to liberate
by seeking vengeance –
by spewing hate

Sea of sand

I walk in the hot burning sand

Searching for my own promised land

Meandering in the sands of time

Soft and smooth beneath my feet

Inviting me to lie down – feel the heat

I close my eyes and remember

Thoughts swim through memories

I lean back and slowly breathe in

Oceans of images from the past

Currents, carry me to my childhood

Scenes, pictures – of people, of me

All drifting in the waves of the sea.


My Freedom

I want the freedom to go home
the freedom to return home
the freedom to be at home
the freedom to sit, eat, sleep, at home
I want the freedom to be free,

I want the freedom to wake up at home
and welcome in the light
I want to smell the cool air of the dawn
I want the freedom to step out
and feel the drape of the mists that form,

I want the freedom to be safe
without locking myself up
I want the freedom to walk
in my almond and olive groves
to enjoy their fruits,

I want my family to come home to me
I want to be hugged by them
and kissed by them at home with me
I want their laughter and their tears
to be recorded there, in our home,

My thoughts, my dreams: Zainab Al-Arabi