Everything has a story. ‘Story’ is, indeed, a broad concept. A term capable of bearing all the contradictions, evident or implicit, that its meanings convey. A story has the power to fabricate everything, it has neither a beginning, like any other account, nor a precise end. Each story is part of another one that, in itself, becomes an interminable series of events; therefore, a story becomes a living being: our mirror image. Similarly, every word has its story – although we rarely consider or identify it because words live, die and have the power to be reborn in the body of another meaning. The most beautiful thing about a story is that sometimes we can retell it, reproduce it detail by detail. And sometimes we are utterly incapable of doing so, granting the characters more freedom to steer the course and push the limits of the tale with every attempt.

A story should be recounted in an orderly fashion. We can continue to develop it, but that development must go hand-in-hand with a reflection on how we tell it using a particular narrative method as a poetic resource. We follow the thread of a narration, we don’t just borrow it from reality, we remove its characters from the hell of reality and transport the account to the world of imagination and narrative flow to save it from that hell. In fact, we construct a sequence of events by fusing reality with fictional drama, and this positions us at the origin of the comedy of life: in the folds of the poet’s soul, reality is far more terrifying than fiction, which is why the poet takes refuge in loneliness, tries to keep the child he serves inside and flees from ‘non-love’, that contagious hatred that penetrates the tenderest of hearts. First and foremost, writing is an attempt to save our humanity, which has been so damaged along the borders between states, in airport lounges and by irrational divisions. Writing is an attempt to save an endangered spirit, the collective spirit that reminds us we are no more than a minuscule pawn in the history of this world, and that the history of humanity is a very recent occurrence, a matter of mere seconds in the history of the universe. Yet, for me personally, stories have often opened my eyes and buried me in their depths. They have also left me disillusioned, perhaps because I have understood them quite well or, at least, that’s what I choose to believe.

Stories are recounted whether the time they are associated with, in which their life cycle began, is over or not. History will never end. Life and death merge as one in the historical realm because we humans are trying to answer a question: ‘Who are we?’ Which is the same question we ask ourselves when we delve into any field of research.

As I read, so carefree and unsuspecting, I slowly fall to the bottom of a wound that, like any other, has its own story. I’d like to cut a piece of it off, maybe to patch an incoherent tale, to leave my silence in the narration of any story.

The wound of the Cities of Jasmine

Then came the bee, hopping from flower to flower, excited, dazzled by the colours. She had just landed on a flower when she again took flight, approached me, and whispered in my ear: ‘No one has ever reached the heart of the City of Jasmines’. The wind called her, and she flew swiftly away. She didn’t wait to hear what the voice inside me said, resonating until it disappeared: ‘And what do you know, little bee, of whether I reached it or not? Getting to another place, to the other side, is always difficult, is it not? You yourself are proof of that every time you jump’.

Once, however, the City of Jasmines returned from her pilgrimage between worlds. We met by chance, or maybe not; who knows? She said to me: ‘We, you and I, are the ones who want to go forth, alone, without hurting anyone, carefree’. I kept thinking: ‘Is it possible that the bee was right?’. I think, or maybe I once thought I had reached it. And what’s more: at one point I thought, I was sure I had arrived too early, and that I had seen the open wound of the City of Jasmines and she hadn’t said a word. I saw the wound, touched it and caressed her head. I was sure she had arrived too, although no one else could say for sure. I saw the wound, the one that exhaled the aroma of the City of Jasmines. ‘Who wounded her?’, asked the voice of someone who wanted to disappear amid all that din. I replied: ‘Those who have inhabited the City of Jasmines without understanding her, who feel nothing but her blood flowing forth’. And not only did I see the wound, but I also saw how it was done and those who had done it. I saw that immense desolation of steely fangs plunging into the splinters of her hope, a desolation of smell that could only be likened to the scent that lures hyenas out at night in search of prey. I don’t like hyenas. When I was little, I saw a hyena eating a dog, a dog I had named ‘Bobi’. Bobi, the dear little thing, was unlucky: he died devoured. The story often reminds me of that little boy, a seller of lost bullets, stabbed to death with a knife.

The City of Jasmines and I share the joys of spring under the cherry blossoms. I am the fruit of the city. From her, I was born, and from her I am reborn in every moment. I waved her farewell as I left, thinking I would never see her again. But I saw her, and because I saw her, I want to remind you of her wound and tell you things about the City. I want to tell you, all of you, in absence or presence, those outside and within, that each and every one of you is the City of Jasmines. I want to tell you that my City of Jasmines is innocent of this blood, which is the eternal purity in the essence of the human being who courageously faces this deep-rooted greed. She is the dream of the past, the dream of the present and the dream of the future. In her, all the paradoxes and all the beauty of a poem converge.

Once, one day when we found ourselves hidden from the gazes of this world, I cried out. She said to me: ‘You know, don’t you, that I won’t live much longer?’. It wasn’t a question it was an assertion. As she dusted this world off my cheeks, I said: ‘Let us go, travel is the only reality; but you, from now on, are eternal, eternal in history’.

Dear City of Jasmines: I am the one who hopes to disappear on the ruins of this terrible destruction, human destruction, the one that inflicts such profound pain, where tears fill rivers and devastating torrents wash away the taste of the nights and the smell of books piled up in the void. The void that language gave birth to while telling the tale of our history.

The City of Jasmines comes and goes, just like lovers.

Suddenly, just as lovers come and go.

Mohamad Bitari

Mohamad Bitari

Mohamad Bitari is a Palestinian-Syrian poet, translator, writer and journalist. He was born in 1990 in the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, Syria. He studied in the Department of Hispanic Philology and Dramaturgy at Damascus University. In 2011, when the revolution in Syria began, he documented human rights violations in the southern neighbourhoods of the Syrian capital. He escaped from the intelligence services to Beirut. In 2013, he went to Spain and moved to Catalonia, where he studied Arabic and Hebrew Studies at the University of Barcelona. For the past eight years, he has written for various Arab newspapers, magazines and websites. He authored numerous articles on the history of Catalonia and its cultural specificity, and translated Spanish and Catalan poets. Currently, he is part of the Council of Catalan PEN Writers Persecuted: Bitari works as an Arabic teacher and as a translator of Catalan and Spanish literature. His latest book was published in 2019: Jo soc vosaltres: sis poetes de Síria (I am you: six poets of Syria).