Sunday, 17 February 2013

Aleppo in Autumn Leaves

(For a Syrian friend, a long time ago.)

I remember you, all those years ago
Sitting opposite me, in that room in Delhi
Smiling as we talked.

The light through the window
On your face, on your blond hair
Your freckled skin – which had made me think you were
European; Austrian I thought you had told me
Before you repeated it, and I understood you were


I remember asking you of Damascus, Aleppo
Of the old souks I’d read of
Culture as half as old as time.
We had talked of your green valleys
Your forested mountains
And autumn red and gold in leaves.

You had told me of your city
Ancient and serene
Where you had grown up
And where you yearned to be again.

I’d listened to you, imagining
Pillared columns and narrow lanes
Between colourful stalls.
I’d imagined a city ancient yet new
Aleppo golden in a swarm of autumn leaves.

And I’d looked out of the window and seen
Delhi’s dusty summer sky
Bleached white with the heat of noon.

I wonder where you are now. I wonder what
You think of what has happened to your city
Torn in half and burned to a cinder
Ruins in the dust
History thrown away in a blink of time.

I wonder on which side you are
What you are doing
If you are even alive
If you have enough to eat
And a roof above your head.

Did you marry the girl you talked about?
About whom you’d apologised
Because you didn’t have a photo of hers to show me?
Were you happy together?
Are you together now?

Questions without answers.

It is better
That I do not know.

For then I can imagine you as we were
Talking together in a Delhi room
Of a world that did not then seem
An infinity away.

I can remember the laughter
And almost persuade myself
That, somewhere, you are happy
That you are laughing now.

Even if you come through, how would I know it?
After all these years
I can still see your face
I can hear your voice
But I can’t remember your name.

Maybe that’s good too
Because it makes you everyone
Everyone’s story is yours
A million lives in your life.

And, maybe

You still have the memory, at least
Of walking the streets of old Aleppo 
Golden in a swarm of autumn leaves.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013


  1. Wow... Bill...this is a very very beautiful poem! I have read it twice...each time, a different emotion... Peoples's paths cross,we meet by chance and then we have no idea our paths will or not cross again... Wondering about what has happened to that person is surely a permanent question bringing about many others, particularly now at a difficult time in that country... Be the person safe, I do hope...

  2. Bill, I liked how you expressed your memory and feelings for a Syrian friend and from there for Syria and its people. It's hard not to be sickened by Syria being torn apart and worse, to listen to the dissembling perpetrators who have beaten the drums of war from the very start and now pretend that they have nothing to do with it. In┼čallah the Syrian people will somehow emerge from this catastrophe and have something left to put their lives back together.

  3. Just now I am reading this. Your words have such power and beauty. What pain. Your words - I can't find anything to say. I have said before that you have broken my heart. This story breaks my heart. This poem. I hope he is safe and not scarred, and yet . . . how can he not be scarred. Ok, I will stop, but this is one of the most powerful piece of yours I have read.

  4. Besides the total ignorance of the Americans, there is this: we hear of war in abstract terms, so many killed, a city taken, threats to "our way of life", who was right, and so forth. Nowhere do we hear of a story that tells us of the humans. That moment when he apologized, he did not have a photo of the girl he wanted to marry - in that moment Aleppo became real for me.

    That is your gift. You can make people care in a personal way. Out of the ruins and chaos of Syria, you made a moment that made me care in a way beyond politics. You have done this before in other writing. I hope you know what a gift that is.


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