New York, November, Fifth Avenue,
the sun a shattered metal saucer,
I said to my estranged self in the shade:
Is this Sodom or Babylon?
There, at the door of an electric abyss
high as the sky, I met Edward
thirty years ago, time was less defiant then,
and we each said: If your past is experience
make your tomorrow meaning and vision!
Let’s go to our tomorrow certain
of imagination’s candor, and of the miracle of grass.
I don’t recall that we went to the movies
that evening, but I heard ancient Indians calling me:
Trust neither the horse, nor modernity.
No, no victim asks his torturer:
Are you me? If my sword were bigger
than my rose, would you wonder
whether I would act similarly?
A question like this piques the curiosity of the novelist
in a glass-walled office overlooking some irises in the garden…
where the hypothetical hand is as white as the novelist’s
conscience when he settles his account
with the human instinct: There’s no tomorrow
in yesterday, onward then…
Though progress might be the bridge of return
New York. Edward wakes to a sluggish
dawn. Plays a Mozart piece. Runs around
in the university tennis court. Thinks
of the migration of birds over borders and checkpoints.
Reads The New York Times. Writes his tense
commentary. Damns an orientalist who guides a general
to the weakness in the heart of a woman from the East.
Showers. Chooses his suit with a rooster’s elegance.
Drinks his coffee with cream. Screams
at the dawn: Come on, don’t procrastinate!
On the wind he walks. And on the wind
he knows who he is. There’s no ceiling for the wind
and no house. The wind is a compass
to the stranger’s north.
He says: I am from there, I am from here,
but I am neither there nor here.
I have two names that meet and part,
and I have two languages, I forget
with which I dream. For writing I have
an English with obedient vocabulary,
and I have a language of heaven’s dialogue
with Jerusalem, it has a silver timbre
but it doesn’t obey my imagination.
And Identity? I asked.
He said: Self-defense…
Identity is the daughter of birth, but in the end
she’s what her owner creates, not an inheritance
of a past. I am the plural. Within my interior
my renewing exterior resides…yet I
belong to the victim’s question. Were I not
from there I would have trained my heart
to rear the gazelle of metonymy,
so carry your land wherever you go,
and be a narcissist if you need to be.
I asked: The outside world is an exile
and the inside world is an exile
so who are you between the two?
I don’t completely know myself
lest I lose myself, he said. I am what I am
and I am my other in a duality that finds
harmony between speech and gesture.
And if I were a poet I would have said:
I am two in one
like a sparrow’s wings
when spring is late
content with bearing
the good omen.
He loves a land then departs from it.
(Is the impossible far?)
He loves departure to anything.
In free travel between cultures, the researchers
of human essence might find enough seats
for everyone. Here is a periphery advancing.
Or a center receding. The East is not completely East
and the West is not completely West.
Because identity is open to plurality,
it isn’t a citadel or a trench.
Metaphor was asleep on the riverbank
and were it not for pollution
it would have embraced the other bank. I asked:
Have you written a novel?
I tried, he said…I tried to bring back my image
in the mirrors of faraway women,
but they had already infiltrated their fortified nights
and said: We have a world separate from text.
Man will not write woman, the riddle-and-dream.
Woman will not write man, the symbol-and-star.
No love resembles another love.
No night resembles another night.
They enumerated the traits of men and laughed.
- So what did you do?
- I laughed at my absurdity
and threw the novel in the trash!
The intellectual reins in the novelist’s rendition
and the philosopher dissects the singer’s rose.
He loves a land then departs from it
and says: I am what I become and will become.
I will make myself by myself
and choose my exile.
My exile is the backdrop of the epic scene,
I defend the poets’ need
to join tomorrow with memories,
I defend trees the birds wear
as country and exile.
I defend a moon still fit for a poem of love.
I defend an idea fractured by its owner’s fragility
and a land the myths have kidnapped.
- Can you return to anything?
- What’s ahead of me drags what’s behind me in a hurry.
There’s no time in my wristwatch for me to write down lines
on the sand. But I can visit yesterday, like strangers do,
when they listen in the evening to a pastoral poet:
A girl by the spring fills her jug
with the milk of clouds
she laughs and cries from a bee that stung
her heart in the wind-rise
of absence. Is love what aches the water
or is it an ailment in fog…?
- Then you are prone to the affliction of longing?
- A longing to tomorrow is farther and higher.
My dream leads my steps. And my vision
seats my dream on my knees like a cat.
My dream is the realistic imaginary and the son of will:
We are able
the inevitability of the abyss!
- And what of longing to yesterday?
- A sentiment that doesn’t concern the intellectual except
to comprehend a stranger’s yearning to the tools of absence.
My longing is a conflict over a present
that grabs tomorrow by the testicles.
- But didn’t you sneak to yesterday when you went
to the house, your house, in al-Talbiah, in Jerusalem?
- I prepared myself to stretch out in my mother’s bed
as a child does when he’s scared
of his father. And I tried to retrieve my birth
and trace the Milky Way on the roof of my old house, I tried
to palpate the skin of absence and the summer scent
of the jasmine garden. But the beast of truth
distanced me from a longing that was looking over
my shoulder like a thief.
- Were you frightened? What frightened you?
- I couldn’t meet loss face to face.
I stood like a beggar at the doorstep.
Do I ask permission, from strangers who sleep
in my own bed, to visit myself for five minutes? Do I
bow respectfully to those who reside in my childhood dream?
Would they ask: Who is this inquisitive foreign visitor?
Would I be able to talk about war and peace
between the victims and the victims
of victims without interruption? Would they
say to me: There’s no place for two dreams in one bed?
He’s neither himself nor me
he’s a reader wondering what poetry
can tell us in the age of catastrophe.
in your land,
in my name and yours, in the almond
blossom, in the banana peel, in the infant’s
milk, in light and shadow,
in wheat grains, in the salt container.
Proficient snipers hit their marks
This land is smaller than the blood of its offspring
who stand on the threshold of Resurrection like offerings.
Is this land really
blessed or baptized
that doesn’t dry up with prayer or sand?
No justice in the pages of this holy book
suffices for the martyrs to celebrate the freedom
of walking on clouds. Blood in daylight.
Blood in the dark. Blood in the words.
But he says: The poem might host defeat
like a thread of light that glistens in a guitar’s heart.
Or as a Christ on a mare adorned with beautiful
metaphor. Aesthetic is only the presence
of the real in form.
In a world without sky, land becomes
an abyss. And the poem, one of condolence’s gifts.
And an adjective of wind: northern or southern.
Don’t describe what the camera sees of your wounds
and scream to hear yourself, to know
that you’re still alive, and that life
on this earth is possible. Invent a wish
for speech, devise a direction or a mirage
to prolong the hope, and sing.
The aesthetic is a freedom.
I said: A life that is defined only
in antithesis to death…isn’t a life!
He said: We will live, even if life abandons us
to ourselves. Let’s become the masters of words
that will immortalize their readers —
as the brilliant Ritsos said.
Then he said: If I die before you do,
I entrust you with the impossible!
I asked: Is the impossible far?
He said: As far as one generation.
- And what if I die before you do?
He said: I will console Galilee’s mountains
and write: The aesthetic is only the attainment
of the suitable. Now don’t forget: If I die before you do,
I entrust you with the impossible.
When I visited him in the new Sodom,
in 2002, he was struggling against
Sodom’s war on the Babylonians,
and against cancer.
He was like the last epic hero
defending Troy’s right
to share in the narrative.
bids his summit farewell
and soars higher and higher.
Because residing over Olympus
and other summits
farewell to the poem
Lights are on in the Great Southwest, the energy
of work trapped in offices as desire
points outward. It’s late
and nighttime’s businessmen crackle downtown’s blocks:
cops, the homeless, undergraduates pouring
from the academy walls for buy-one get-ones and drums recycled
from long forgotten songs about heartbreak
and human connection.
A ball game is erupting
from the opened roof of the stadium a block away,
the weather is pleasing enough, twenty thousand brains clinging
to victory’s weak hinge. Houston
is a city and all of the ropes pull outward, it’s a good
thing. A city is a good thing,
a city is a dot on a map
in a sea of color and veins, words that can be meaningless,
Corpus Christi, Palestine, Happy, Cut And Shoot.
What to take and when to take it, the slash, the splintered rack.
To love a city, to love the state. The state I want to fail most is Texas, the state
that grows my food, that pays
my bills. The children are starving, good, a choice somebody
made, a great somebody in a great house,
Austin in its nest.
I haven’t made any choice but to love the state for all
the wrong reasons, all the right devils. Austin, a great
collection of buildings and people, department stores and taco joints
made famous by television shows. Concerts every
night, great dancing to music made by resequencing spoken word samples
of the relatives of murder victims
at various trials, drum loops beneath.
Stars are gazing through the veil
of pollution and light that Houston generates
like breath. I have met women in Houston, and I have
met men. I have slept uneasily
on one side of the bed, unsure if my heat should invade my partner. To grab,
to hold. When to kiss and when to hold it.
everybody knows each other, everybody knows great
sin, the inner workings of political systems, endless columns
without walls, roofs. Texas, a colorful moment
clicking comfortably against the other states. I have
a car and I have invaded many parts
of Texas. Dallas,
a clean city, a shopping mall, a sports franchise; San
Antonio a museum; Galveston a popular tomb. Fort
Worth, Nacogdoches, Texarkana, Cairo.
Lights are on still,
in all the buildings in all of the Texas downtowns,
it’s a comfort, somebody is working, some
thing needs to get done, family on the periphery.
What to pick or when to push it, the devils
we’ve accepted by assent or silence. My neighbor has died
but I always rushed inside to avoid helping her up
the stairs with her groceries.
The homeless scenery. The children starving.
I turn down a road and I’m astonished by the cityscape stuck
flat on the horizon, elaborate monoliths of steel and glass. People
are working in the Great Southwest, but maybe it’s just the night
cleaning crew, maybe everybody else rushed home on time
to meet up for dinner, for drinks, to be involved
in a moment of human connection. Lights against
the night sky, constellations we could draw on the skyline
different each night. A banking skyscraper has shaped
their remaining lights to form a five pointed star across
their facade, the Astros’ symbol.
Lights are still on
but maybe nobody’s working,
the switch forgotten by the last person out in a rush
with keys and bag, or they’re on timers, going on
and off hourly. Speed it up,
windows between us on the ground and the lights
in the buildings, windows designed to protect us from only the smallest dangers.
translated by Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong
the ancients play chess in the starry sky
the endgame flickers
a bird locked in a clock
jumps out to tell the time
the sun climbs over the wall like an old man
and goes through the market
throwing mirror light on
a rusted copper plate
gods drink water from earthen jars
a bow asks a string for directions
a boy sets out to inherit the ocean
from the edge of the sky
seeds sown along the high noon
death blossoms outside my window
resisting, the tree takes on a hurricane’s
violent original shape
In the dark irritation of the eyes there is a snake hiding
In the exhalations of Americans there is a crumbling empire
In the foul waters of the rivers there are Palestinians
OUT OUT of its borders pain has a leash on its neck
In the wheat stalks there are insects vaccinated against bread
In the Arabian boats there are sharks shaken with laughter
In the camel’s belly there are blind highways
OUT OUT of TIME there is spring’s shattered hope
In the deluge on our plains there are no rains but stones
New York, November, Fifth Avenue,
“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”
—Tommy Olofsson, Sweden
I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.
Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.
Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.
Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.
It’s late but everything comes next.
Choose one word and say it over
and over, till it builds a fire inside your mouth.
Adhafera, the one who holds out, Alphard, solitary one,
the stars were named by people like us.
Each night they line up on the long path between worlds.
They nod and blink, no right or wrong
in their yellow eyes. Dirah, little house,
unfold your walls and take us in.
My well went dry, my grandfather’s grapes
have stopped singing. I stir the coals,
my babies cry. How will I teach them
they belong to the stars?
They build forts of white stone and say, “This is mine.”
How will I teach them to love Mizar, veil, cloak,
to know that behind it an ancient man
is fanning a flame?
He stirs the dark wind of our breath.
He says the veil will rise
till they see us shining, spreading like embers
on the blessed hills.
Well, I made that up. I’m not so sure about Mizar.
But I know we need to keep warm here on earth
And when your shawl is as thin as mine is, you tell stories.
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed for four hours, I heard an announcement:
"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”
Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,”
said the flight service person. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”
I stooped to put my arm around the woma and spoke to her haltingly.
"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to
her—Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two
little gils from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
Lovers of asparagus, alive
as hummingbirds, place their nostrils
over a low cloud, wet of air.
It’s the year of green hills
in California that early spring;
the evening is blue-split between the first
snow on the mountain top,
and a computer screen, where news of a man
whose body is eating itself, scythes
the long-stemmed breaths in the room.
"Do not weep if my heart fails," he writes.
"I am your son."
Gate of Love
Son I have. Your hands bulge
with pear tree blossoms.
You are bellow and sweat,
hunger and bread.
I part the fog to find you
through a grimy crowd of kids.
Before you give in to the affection
that soils you in public,
I’ll promise you a truce.
Gate of the Sun
Bristling down the chemical-
scraped hall uttering
assalamu alaikums to the young
patients from the UAE, their heads sagging
to the side, their bodies a shrine
to tumors, husks of overgrown cells,
the chemo fountain. One boy
stares through a sieve
of darkness, hewn around dark-gray clouds.
Gate of Peace
"I have so many sons withering,"
I whisper to the Chinese elm, as news
of the man whose body is eating itself,
disputes with the bresola on crisp baguette
that I’m eating in a garden
among the flung-out
blue jays and limping Daddy long legs.
No hymns left;
only a small neck
the sun gnarls through.
About this poem:
"The poem was inspired by Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi’s moral fortitude in the face of draconian detention. The rapid growth of children, the mediocrity and spontaneity of springtime, and a diminishing mother’s role in her child’s life are juxtaposed against larger tragedies such as death from disease and death from hunger." Today (Monday 11th March 2013) is Samer’s 224th day on hunger strike.
We left Ramallah early and sped north to the Salem military court for the hearings of Ashraf Abu Rahma, Wahib Qadus, and Diaa Beni Odeh. The court adjoined the prison of the same name, a dull and rainy sprawl of chainlink, razor wire and concrete blast walls. We passed through gates and metal detectors and turnstiles and tiny private rooms designed for more intrusive searches. But before I tell you what happened in the courtroom, I should mention that I was there when the three men (two men really—Diaa Beni Odeh is just 17) were arrested on a hillside above the village of Burin. I don’t have room to tell you here how gorgeous the view from that hillside was or to describe the green terraced fields in the valleys all around because all of this is already a week old, maybe more, old news already, and by the time we arrived in Salem, Qadus was already all over YouTube, getting beaten and pepper-sprayed by Israeli soldiers as they held him on the ground. You see how one story leads to another and that one to another and another and in the end none of them ever fully gets told? The previous Saturday I had arrived in Burin an hour or so before a tractor pulled up in the center of the village towing nine steel-framed, semi-cylindrical, aluminum “huts.” The idea was to haul them up the mountain and with them establish a new “village” called al-Manatir—the name refers to the traditional Palestinian stone huts built to provide shelter for farmers and shepherds guarding their fields and flocks. The symbolism was intentional: the land in question was under threat from the nearby Israeli settlements of Har Brakha and Yitzhar and the even nearer outpost of Givat Ronen. The settlers around Burin are among the most aggressive in the West Bank, but those stories are better told elsewhere, because we have a court date to get back to and we’re four days behind and still haven’t made it to the top of the hill. We got there eventually and the huts did too, twenty or so people carrying each one all the way up the steep and rocky slope, cheering and chanting as they lowered each hut into place. Soon the settlers in their flowing white robes were racing down from the outpost on the next hilltop up and dozens of green-uniformed soldiers were running a few steps behind them. In the end Al-Manatir only survived for a few hours, but they were long ones, and my ears were still ringing the next morning. I will tell you about one moment from that day, a moment I didn’t remember until much later that night, and then laughed about on and off for days. The soldiers had been steadily pushing us—150-odd protesters and journalists—back with tear gas and stun grenades all morning and we had all been gassed and shoved repeatedly when I saw the soldiers lifting their guns and reaching for grenades again and I pulled my scarf over my nose and mouth and pressed my hands to my ears and ran to take cover beside a low stone wall where a man whose face I didn’t see—I only ever saw the shoulders of his brown leather jacket—suddenly pulled me to him and threw his arms around me. I don’t know if he was trying to protect me or to comfort himself—it’s even possible that I was the one who reached out to him, I can’t say for sure in the haze, but either way I returned his embrace and he returned mine and we crouched there with our heads pressed into each other’s shoulders, holding tightly to one another until the explosions ceased and the gas had drifted off and we stood and parted, slightly abashed, without a word or a glance. Oh fierce and mighty IDF, do you not know how much tenderness you breed? The day dragged on until the soldiers pushed us to a cliffside and we scrambled all the way down and learned at the bottom that settlers had in the meantime attacked the village and shot a 17-year-old boy in the thigh, and I almost forgot to mention that in the process the soldiers arrested Abu Rahma, Qadus, and Beni Odeh, not, as far as I could tell, for any reason other than that they had annoyed them and were within easy reach. I was right there when they took Abu Rahma, whom I had met in Ramallah a few days earlier at a screening of the documentary Five Broken Cameras, which includes footage of his brother Bassem being killed by a high-velocity teargas canister fired at his chest, but does not mention his sister Jawaher’s death from teargas inhalation eight months later. In Burin that Saturday morning, I had seen Abu Rahma yelling at the soldiers, but I had not seen him raise a stone or a fist against them. And at the military court in Salem—you see, I promised we’d get back here—Abu Rahma’s case was first. His wife Rana, to whom he had been married just three months, sat on the bench beside me, her eyes huge and rimmed with tears. The judge came in, a fair-skinned young man in his thirties, his cap folded neatly into his left epaulette. We stood and sat down again. Abu Rahma grinned at his wife from across the room. The translator slumped in his seat. A pot-bellied soldier with an M-3 strapped over his shoulder leaned against the wall. The prosecutor wore diamond earrings with her fatigues. Her nails were manicured with perfect French tips. Every now and again a soldier too young to shave would sit down beside her, whisper a few words, linger, leave. Across the room, Abu Rahma squirmed in his shackles. The prosecutor presented secret evidence. Secret from the defendant, that is. And from his lawyer, and the public. Abu Rahma shouted out that he had something to say. His lawyer hushed him. In the end, basing his decision on the secret evidence presented, the judged granted the prosecutor’s request that Abu Rahma be detained for another five days without charge. (Five days later, he would grant her request for another three days’ extension). The next two cases proceeded in the same manner. The judge instructed the clerk to cut and paste his earlier decision into the official record. We walked back out through the security checks and the razor wire to the drizzle and the car. We drove west for lunch in an old stone house in Nazareth and crossed over again into the West Bank and headed east and then south through the Jordan Valley, the hills lush with winter rain. Some of us, you see, have been blessed with the right documents and skin tone and are hence allowed to pass through checkpoints and borders as freely as the birds fly over them. I don’t say this smugly, but with great sadness and a certain amount of wonder that I have at last arrived at the story I’ve wanted to tell you all this time—not about military courts or prisoners or checkpoints or settlers or teargas or beatings or the man who hugged me, but about the birds, the thousands and thousands of birds we saw in the dim sky and in the trees on the side of route 90 when we pulled off the road just before the sun set beneath the green hills that rim the Jordan Valley. There were white cranes and black birds I didn’t recognize, flocks intermingling as they migrated from Central Asia down to Africa and stopped on the way here in these trees, so many birds that the branches looked heavy with white and black fruit and sometimes the sky went dark as they swirled and dove above us and the valley rang out with their calls and cries and flirts and worries and with the beating of their thousands of wings and the push of the air against their bodies and we stood beneath them, silenced, heads back, open-mouthed, unable to find anything to say.
Protest against the occupation and settlements, Nabi Saleh, West Bank, 30.11.2012 (by activestills)
A Palestinian youth uses his sling shot to throw back a tear gas canister shot by the Israeli army during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, November 30, 2012.
let me teach you how we do math where i am from:
for example did you know
that a hunger striking prisoner
is cancelled out
by some kids throwing rocks
at praying people?
(don’t worry, nobody died this time).
when you divide the land
by everyone who claims it,
the answer is blood.
that it is always the people
who have power
who draw the line
of the division symbol.)
here is your pop quiz,
like everything else it takes you by surprise.
(don’t worry too hard though,
here we always
round off the remainders).
how many walls
do you have to build
to feel safe
in your stolen house?
how many bombings
equal a wall?
how many night raids
and lost family members
equal a burning bus
on a busy street in tel aviv?
how many refugees?
how many refugees?
how many refugees?
how many more refugees?
what is the number worth of a screaming mother a farmer cut off from land a sister in prison?
how many days of hunger until you are free?
how many kilometers to the ocean in jaffa from ramallah?
how many minutes hours days years lifetimes in between?
how many bodies
did you count and
what kind were they
(civilian or militant) and
who gets to decide
if they matter or
cancel each other
this reflection of subtraction
discounted life pressed to spin
all ready know what cease fire
means shock living stop all thinking
imagine din grinding heads
what de-escalation means
families lowered ground covered
all ready been peace processed
means eat this salt degradation
trapped starving generations
never be civilian enough
genetics as terror cellular
fission of everything light
i am damaged beyond recovery
nights swallowed years tunneled into me
learned hate intimate beauty now foreign
all this a shell a bitch to kick when down
i know this cycle know war is come
i am this pattern flatten cover-up
a bed laid web someone else’s tragedy
history made a maze i feel beastly
chronic survival this not living
have absorbed more than my frame
shook am holding this spark to flame
gaza gaze (mirror)
“Where is Abu Fadi,” she wailed.
“Who will bring me my loved one?”
New York Times, 9/20/82
(after the 1982 Phalangist/Israeli Massacre of Palestinian Refugees in Sabra and Shatila)
I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the
not quite covering all of the arms and legs
Nor do I wish to speak about the nightlong screams
the observation posts where soldiers lounged about
Nor do I wish to speak about the woman who shoved her baby
into the stranger’s hands before she was led away
Nor do I wish to speak about the father whose sons
through the head while they slit his own throat before
of his wife
Nor do I wish to speak about the army that lit continuous
flares into the darkness so that others could see
the backs of their victims lined against the wall
Nor do I wish to speak about the piled up bodies and
that will not float
Nor do I wish to speak about the nurse again and
before they murdered her on the hospital floor
Nor do I wish to speak about the rattling bullets that
halt on that keening trajectory
Nor do I wish to speak about the pounding on the
the breaking of windows and the hauling of families into
the world of the dead
I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the
not quite covering all of the arms and legs
because I do not wish to speak about unspeakable events
that must follow from those who dare
“to purify” a people
those who dare
“to exterminate” a people
those who dare
to describe human beings as “beasts with two legs”
those who dare
“to mop up”
“to tighten the noose”
“to step up the military pressure”
“to ring around” civilian streets with tanks
those who dare
to close the universities
to abolish the press
to kill the elected representatives
of the people who refuse to be purified
those are the ones from whom we must redeem
the words of our beginning
because I need to speak about home
I need to speak about living room
where the land is not bullied and beaten into
I need to speak about living room
where the talk will take place in my language
I need to speak about living room
where my children will grow without horror
I need to speak about living room where the men
of my family between the ages of six and sixty-five
marched into a roundup that leads to the grave
I need to talk about living room
where I can sit without grief without wailing aloud
for my loved ones
where I must not ask where is Abu Fadi
because he will be there beside me
I need to talk about living room
because I need to talk about home
I was born a Black woman
I am become a Palestinian
against the relentless laughter of evil
there is less and less living room
and where are my loved ones?
It is time to make our way home.
Hebrew writing and Arabic writing go from east to west,
Latin writing, from west to east.
Languages are like cats:
You must not stroke their hair the wrong way.
The clouds come from the sea, the hot wind from the desert,
The trees bend in the wind,
And stones fly from all four winds,
Into all four winds. They throw stones,
Throw this land, one at the other,
But the land always falls back to the land.
They throw the land, want to get rid of it.
Its stones, its soil, but you can’t get rid of it.
They throw stones, throw stones at me
In 1936, 1938, 1948, 1988,
Semites throw at Semites and anti-Semites at anti-Semites,
Evil men throw and just men throw,
Sinners throw and tempters throw,
Geologists throw and theologists throw,
Archaelogists throw and archhooligans throw,
Kidneys throw stones and gall bladders throw,
Head stones and forehead stones and the heart of a stone,
Stones shaped like a screaming mouth
And stones fitting your eyes
Like a pair of glasses,
The past throws stones at the future,
And all of them fall on the present.
Weeping stones and laughing gravel stones,
Even God in the Bible threw stones,
Even the Urim and Tumim were thrown
And got stuck in the beastplate of justice,
And Herod threw stones and what came out was a Temple.
Oh, the poem of stone sadness
Oh, the poem thrown on the stones
Oh, the poem of thrown stones.
Is there in this land
A stone that was never thrown
And never built and never overturned
And never uncovered and never discovered
And never screamed from a wall and never discarded by the builders
And never closed on top of a grave and never lay under lovers
And never turned into a cornerstone?
Please do not throw any more stones,
You are moving the land,
The holy, whole, open land,
You are moving it to the sea
And the sea doesn’t want it
The sea says, not in me.
Please throw little stones,
Throw snail fossils, throw gravel,
Justice or injustice from the quarries of Migdal Tsedek,
Throw soft stones, throw sweet clods,
Throw limestone, throw clay,
Throw sand of the seashore,
Throw dust of the desert, throw rust,
Throw soil, throw wind,
Throw air, throw nothing
Until your hands are weary
And the war is weary
And even peace will be weary and will be.
Translated from the Hebrew by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav