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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 4: July 2020
Poem: 105 words [R]
By Yahia Lababidi

For George Floyd

What is to give light must endure 
burning, a man once said [*]
Other men  became the matchstick 
that set a nation aflame 

But fire, and its appetite, cannot be 
calculated, like freedom 
Injustice and desperation make men 
combustible, like dry wood 

When words lose their meaning 
and an entire people their voice—
so they can neither scream nor dream—
death and life begin to taste the same 

From Minneapolis, to DC, to cities nationwide 
the light from a burning fire proved catching 
And those with nothing to lose, or offer, but bodies 
fanned the embers of their hopes into a blazing nightmare. 


—Published previously in Queen Mob’s Teahouse (1 June 2020), and in slightly different form in Poetry at Sangam House (August 2013); appears here with poet’s permission.


* Publisher’s Note:

“What is to give light must endure burning” is widely misattributed to Viktor E. Frankl. However, the line (Was leuchten soll, muß dulden, daß es brennt in its original language of German) is from “Helldunke Stunde (Chiaroscuro Hour),” a poem written in 1916 by Austrian dramatist and poet Anton Wildgans (1881–1932).

First published in 1917 in Mittag: Neue Gedichte (page 90), the poem was later cited by Viktor E. Frankl (1905–1997), Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, in The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), page 67.

For the text of Helldunke Stunde and other poems by Wildgans, see:

Yahia Lababidi,
Issue 4, July 2020

an Egyptian American, is the author of eight critically acclaimed books of poetry and prose; his most recent is a collection of essays and conversations in which literature, social activism, and mysticism intersect, Revolutions of the Heart (Wipf & Stock, 2020). His Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems (1993-2015) debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases.

He is also the author of two books of aphorisms: Signposts to Elsewhere (Hay House, 2019) and Where Epics Fail: Aphorisms on Art, Morality and Life of the Spirit (Unbound, 2018), the latter of which was featured on PBS NewsHour and generously endorsed by Richard Blanco, President Barack Obama’s inaugural poet.

Lababidi’s work has appeared on NPR, Best American Poetry, AGNI, World Literature Today, and On Being with Krista Tippett. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize three times, his writing has been translated into several languages, including Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Slovak, Spanish, and Swedish. Lababidi has participated in international poetry festivals throughout the USA and Eastern Europe as well as the Middle East.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Never Forget, Never Remember, a short essay by Yahia Lababidi for “One Small Blow Against Encroaching Totalitarianism” in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (29 June 2018)

I Saw My Face, a poem by Lababidi in Serving House Journal (Issue 8, Fall 2013), with a portrait of the poet by artist Sarah F. Russell

Meditation on Murder, an essay in Serving House Journal (Issue 2, Fall 2010), which was selected as a finalist for Best of the Net 2011

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