Poem Recalls Syrian Family

Sep 4, 2013

Susan Porterfield reading her new poem "By Heart" for WNIJ
Credit Dan Klefstad

Poet Susan Azar Porterfield remembers meeting a Syrian family in Beirut. She was visiting Lebanon during a period of peace, in 2003.

The Syrians were brand new parents and allowed Porterfield to hold their infant.

"They were very sweet," she says. "And the baby was adorable."

She doesn't know where the family is today; they were from Aleppo, the site of intense fighting between government troops and rebels.

Porterfield, who's half-Lebanese, has written about the conflicts in her father's homeland and neighboring Syria and Israel. One poem, "We in the Middle," is included in her most recent poetry collection, Kibbe.

Her newest poem, "By Heart," is about that family she met in Beirut. Porterfield gave her first public reading of this poem Wednesday during Morning Edition on WNIJ:

War Deaths in Syria Said to Top 100,000

                                                                                                NYTimes, August 2013

I can’t remember their names,

the young couple with a son, Syrians

from Aleppo visiting friends.

We were in Beirut, it was some years back.

She shyly held up the baby in her arms,

the father was shattered with love for them.

That was in another time,

it was another place.  I remember

she gave me the child to hold

snug against my chest,

the tug and scent of his small body

frank as a loaf of warm bread.

Of course, they may have more children now,

I don’t know.

They may still be in Aleppo now,

I don’t know.

It’s so far away, and it was years ago,

a different world.

Credit CBS

Porterfield is a professor of English at Rockford University.