(On the morning of Tuesday 4th April 2017, 29-year-old Abdul Hameed Alyousef lost 22 family members, after warplanes dropped sarin gas over the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib. Amongst the fatalities were his 9-month-old twin babies Ahmad and Aya.)

breathing air from an ancient land,
tears form from two storms in my lungs

a song’s shadow. a light’s echo.
those two rhyming breaths –

twin yellow petals
plucked from a morning sun.

imploded in place where
what’s lost is great, god is gone

& ghosts wait for white helmets
before taking an angel’s hand.

for a moment, in lungs that invite death,
i hold the burdened air

of a country howling it’s history
into my cells, echoing beyond time,

into memory.


a father’s grief – like a scream stretched
through endless weeping hours,

waded, as fleeing neighbours drown
in a sea of averted eyes.

their aqueous breaths crossing all borders
to beyond, without papers

& absent those bones,
to hold us to account, we press

the crush of glass, stone & black
scrolling it into nothing

a nothing that rains down – there’s no escape
from a sky that is everywhere,

or, from a once bystanding air
taking arms in a civil war

waged in veins.


thick red lines, coiled around two necks,
those small instruments of joy

silenced, as they’re held tightly
to the breast: all thirst and truth.

extinguished, after nine undimmed months,
swilled around a mouth of black teeth

they would never grow up
to be flesh for bullets – yet

they suffered long enough
to sweat their poison.

they could never ask why?
or do sums with their age

they couldn’t give name to their fears
or learn all they ever knew

was love.


a father spared that thorny air,
cradled their cold – shrouded in white,

carried as far as his body
could hold his heart’s eruption,

death’s foamy tide at their lips – his lips,
an open wound bleeding their names

Ahmad.                          Aya.
emptied out of him every second

as he tugs on the universe
– too small to fill their echo,

& the unbent grass still whispers their music
carried by wind into his dreams

every night, as the weary stars
clamber into the dark, every morning,

as the sunlight shatters on his pillow.


Varun Kanish (2018)

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Hollowed eyes ate her beauty for breakfast
Feasted on. Filling spaces
where fire once –

Washed down by the soft light
Majorelle blue, rolling oranges
clouded shots of mint and sugar.

Bounties of Msemen bread
bejewelled with honey,
on my fingers; her lips.
The stick of us

A yawning fault between continents.
Every day a tightrope walk,
above all that is raw and roaring.


And around our throbbing rapture,
her citadel of bones –
trembling red ramparts
that held our attention;
guiding my slouching back
                          -that archway over her traffic of pain.

A pain that pulls.
Pain from which my Kilim unthreads,
tangled around landmine threats.
Knotted, lens-baited,
cast out into the hours
for a day’s catch of memories,
decorating our mantle for the guests.



God’s breath clinging to the horizon.

White satellites,
chests out to the world
stationed over an edgeless city.


A base camp from which we scaled our ache
Each carving mountains into the sky
with our own mark of awe,
while a call to prayer stirs silence
into the dry air.

Lost amongst history’s teeming afterthought.
That medina maze we navigated,
hand-in-hand, turning over soil
in an arid land.   Veiled
under the same lavender sky.
A view to behold,
a stage lit
for my tessellation of compliments;
set to the music of motors,
and tree leaves
applauding the evening breeze.


And in those dimming,
c o u n t d ow n    hours,
the silver of her gleams.
Her favourite turquoise stones
move the tides of me
so that I recite a Dhikr of nicknames
and garland her with affection,
as we wait for one year
to crash into another.

A toast to toasting,
the blood of our promise
corked.   Iron-wrought-
grilles over windows to clean
but not for looking out of.

And alone, in that oasis of a lie,
she took flint
to the cold steel of my tongue
so I would burn through clothes
until she wore only my gaze.


The honesty of our skin
dressed by night’s gauze.

A closed wound, loose-stitched,
where sweat wept,
and she bit flesh
– smelted marrow,
as we slow-cooked
over a smouldering past.

Taking ourselves to night’s cliff,
my harness of arms around the sweet chaos
murmuring into her nape
I am not the ghosts of your past

I am your bookmark
                                            for the passing chapters.

Varun Kanish (2017)

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