Originally published: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/article/2024/may/24/gaza-poem-ben-okri

24 May 2024 | Ben Okri, The Guardian

1

I don’t know how many have died
Or how many died before war flared up.
There must be a way to listen to all
The pain that burns in a people
Must be a way to hear all that anguish.
Pain creates pain creates deadness
Of heart. Distance makes all that suffering
Unreal. How else can great powers
Add bombs and missiles to an agony
That’s engulfing the world in fire and rage?
How did we become so deaf to the death
Of innocent children and their mothers?
How did we get to measure the value
Of one death against another, with one
Worth a thousand of the other?

Surely the heart of the world has died.
Surely we have turned to stone in our veins.
I sit here staring at the sky wondering what
Could change the coldness in the soul
That makes it possible for us to eat our food,
go to work and laugh with our families
When we know that over in Gaza, a brief dream
Away, hundreds of thousands starve,
Their homes destroyed, their lives broken.

There ought to be no religion that lets
Us be indifferent to all that suffering.
Surely something’s wrong with the world.
Something’s twisted in our humanity.
I have friends who weep at the loss
Of their dogs, but whose ears are closed
To the wailing from the flattened houses
Of Gaza. Complexity ought not to stop our
Souls from feeling. For pain creates pain
Creates stones instead of human beings.

There are in truth no distances in the spirit
Of humanity. Any great injustice makes
The sleep of the world howl. We breathe in
The destruction of lives that we don’t see.
In our dreams we die with them. In our sleep
Our souls grieve with them, for their deaths
Are ours, whoever they may be. We grow
Sick with the times. We become twisted with
The wounds. Whether we are silent or not
We are poisoned by the massacres. No
Civilisation can survive on the murder
Of a people. We are watching our demise 
In our silence. Peace is not ignorance or lies.

We are measured by what we tolerate,
The agony we ignore, keep quiet about,
For our peace of mind. Silence helps
Those missiles. Our silence is touched
With the blood of those children. And every
Day that we turn away, and shut our hearts,
Below, in the common earth of all humanity,
The spilled blood rises and ghosts feed on our
Prosperity. For Gaza is not there. It’s here.

2

That the war must end, it is clear
Find a way, find a way
That does not mean the destruction
Of one people or another.
History, in its wisdom, in its terror,
Has brought us to this place
To this impossible mathematical
Equation where we cannot solve
The future with the past,
With blood or blame or bombs
Or unsustainable slogans.
I see a new future is possible there.
I see the lands fertile in tough
Invaluable collaboration.
I see that the desert will come alive
With music. I see two peoples finding
A new way. I see that this miracle
Is the only pragmatic path.
All that hatred, that anger, can
Only blossom into a miracle.
If vision and love can’t bring us
There, then let all the suffering
Find for us a new road.

I see a shining land where
Two dreams surprise the world
By finding a way to coexist.
It would be the greatest
Breakthrough of our times.
Who would dream it, make it
Real, while the bombs flower
And the children weep?

Who will find a
Way instead of
Taking a side?

Who will find a
Way instead of
Taking a side?

As sure as I
Sit here staring
At the sky, I know
That this vision
Of peace
Must come to be.

It’s an unavoidable destiny.

  • Ben Okri is a Booker prize-winning author and poet. His book Tiger Work, a collection of stories, essays and poems about the climate crisis, is published by Head of Zeus, and in the US by Other Press