Hamed Abboud – Speaking in Tongues

Hamed Abboud is Syrian poet born in northern Syria in the city of Deir Ez-Zor in 1987. Like millions of Syrians, Abboud left Syria in 2012 and lived in Egypt, UAE, and Turkey before settling in Austria in 2014. His first poetry collection Der Regen der ersten Wolke (The rain of the first cloud) was published in Arabic in 2012.

Since then, Abboud has published two poetry collections; Der Tod backt einen Geburtstagskuchen (Death Bakes a Birthday Cake) and his latest book In meinem Bart versteckte Geschichten (Stories Hidden in my Beard) both of which are published in Arabic and German. Abboud got the Jean-Jacques-Rousseau scholarship in 2015 and was nominated for the International Literature Prize.

Below, we share Abboud’s poem “I want to drive a tank” from the book Death Bakes a Birthday Cake and translated into English by Marian Kamal.

I Want to Drive a Tank

If I only knew how to drive a tank

I would have borrowed one from an enemy or a friend

Everyone owns a tank but me

I would have taken you onboard
In a drive fit for this war
For you to see life as soldiers do
Through a rectangular opening in a door

Then you might find them an excuse for destroying your favorite church

Just before you denounced their God

They never saw God over that church

Through that rectangular hole in the door
Nor did they see him in the confession stand

Behind a wall adorned with vines and sins
But they heard of Him whenever someone shouted

His name
They forced Him into their hearts and He forced

Himself out
I would have taken you for a stroll over that minaret tossed aside in the street
Without it being a miracle
The minaret puts its ear against the street

Like a red Indian listening to the footsteps of those approaching and those departing
from far away to further still

If I knew how to drive a tank
My brothers would argue who would ride next to me

I’ve known
Since we lost the roof of our country
All tanks will also be convertible
We bared our heads
Our chests
And waited for the heavy echo of the prayers

Like a man obsessed with cleanliness and prestige I would have polished my tank
Even if its borrowed
And wiped the glass of the rectangular window For a better view
A cleaner war
And for martyrs dying with all their birthmarks and in their real skin
After giving it back
I don’t want a fair martyr to die because he looked darker in that window

We want our murders clear and pure
In three dimensions and intentionsim
Like a maniac
I would have pulled the shroud through the barrel back and forth