The Air Conditioning in Syria

I wanted to create a parallel between the fear Syrians might have felt during the reign of Hafez al-Assad during the early 1980’s, and what the fear they felt during Bashar al-Assad’s, his son’s, reign in the 2000’s until now. Hafez al-Assad instituted the emergency ban, effectively outlawing political opposition and allowing the government to imprison Syrians indiscriminately. When the Muslim Brotherhood tried to rebel against this in Hama in the early 80’s, Hafez al-Assad slaughtered its citizens. The deaths were so bad neighborhoods in Hama were called “Widow’s Row.” Though I was not born yet, like the persona narrator in the poem, my father was studying to be a doctor. He failed the anatomy portion of his exam, but convinced the Proctor to let him pass in order that he could flee the country and come to America.

1982 to Now

All summer the A/C was broken,
days were as complicated as the color yellow
and the words “Brotherhood” and the city “Hama”
circulated like the air we dreamed of.

My father was finishing his medical school
in Aleppo, his studies drifting into yellow.
The evenings spun into tarneeb, arguileh
and bad girls willing to sneak into dorms.
Hafez Al-Assad’s thin lips and mustache,
spoke to us each night on SyriaTV.

On the morning news, I saw the face
of Nizar Qabbani through an ocean
of women. The fridge expelled Fanta,
the sun burned sweat off our skin.
And my father failed anatomy
as the Muslim Brotherhood botched
its mission to take Hama, so Assad slaughtered
its residents. We lived through Hama

becoming charcoal, all of it ash from bombs.
Now Hafez’s son Bashar is in charge.
We’re stuck, and all of Syria’s charcoal.

Seif-Eldeine is a Syrian-American poet with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Tufts University and a MFA in poetry from Lesley University. He received the Emerging Poet’s Fellowship from the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow and was a finalist for the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. His work has appeared or is upcoming in the Massachusetts Review, Pedestal Magazine, Qu, Copper Nickel, and the Michigan Quarterly Review. You can find his automatic writing at