Contemporary Palestinian Poetry
Edited by Michael Smith
To Mahmound Darwish (1941-2008).
This supplement is dedicated to the memory of Mahmoud Darwish who, writing out of his own personal experience, expressed the lives of his people.
Some years ago, when I was Editor of Poetry Ireland Review, I managed to compile a small anthology of modern Palestinan poets with the generous help of Ferial Ghazoul and Sharif Elmusa, both of Cairo, and Margaret Obank, Editor of Banipal. Since then a very substantial feature on Palestinian literature has appeared in Banipal (No 15/16, Fall 2002/Spring 3003). By combining the PIR poems with a selection of those in Banipal, this present supplement of Palestinian poets has been made possible. I have tried to contact all of the poets and translators involved, but, unfortunately, without achieving any great success. I can only hope to be excused of this failure on the grounds that Free Verse is offering a chance to these Palestinian poets and their translators to have their work more widely diffused in the Anglophone world. Should any poet or translator wish to have his or her material removed from this website, that will be done immediately on notification. I should also like to point out that Free Verse is a non-profit making venture.
Finally, I wish to express my thanks to Sharif Elmusa for all his help and support, and to Sarah Maguire for her contributions and encouragement.
Michael Smith, Dublin, 2008
Mahoud Darwish was born in 1941 in Birwa near Acre. He died in 2008. Through his family’s and his own experience he had suffered profoundly the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian homelands. He had been actively involved in the cultural dimension of the PLO. His books include Asafir Bila Ajniha (Wingless Birds, 1960), Awraq al-Zaytun (Olive Leaves, 1964), Ashiq Min Filastin (A lover from Palestine. 1966, 1970), Uhibbuki aw la Uhibbuki (I love you, I love you not, 1972), Qasida Bayrut (Ode to Beirut, 1982) and Madih al-Zill ali-Ali ( A Eulogy for the Tall Shadow, 1982).
As a poet, Darwish was both deeply personal and political. His personal love poems fuse with the political in the most extraordinary way: it is as if the aisling (‘beautiful maiden’) of Jacobean Irish poetry (symbolising Ireland) became, as did not happen in Irish) a carnate, real woman.
Darwish was probably the most distinguished living Palestinian poet at the time of his death, and he was justly known throughout the Arab world as ‘the poet of Palestinian resistance.’
A STATE OF SIEGE
Here, on the slopes of hills,
facing the cannons of time,
here by orchards with severed shadows,
we do what prisoners
what the unemployed do:
we nurse hope.
This siege will last until we teach our enemy
selections of pre-Islamic poetry.
when the housewife doesn’t set up the clothesline
in the morning and preoccupies herself with the cleanness of the flag.
The soldiers gauge the distance between being and nothingness
with a tank’s telescope.
We gauge the distance between our bodies and shells
with the sixth sense.
You who stand on our doorstep, come in
and drink with us Arabic coffee
[you might feel you are humans like us].
You who stand on our doorstep
get out of our mornings
so we can be certain
we are humans like you.
Behind the soldiers,
the pine trees and minarets
keep the sky from arching downward.
Behind the iron fence soldiers pee–
guarded by tanks–
and this autumn day keeps up its golden stroll
in a street wide as a church after Sunday prayer.
A humorous writer once said to me:
“If I knew the end, from the beginning,
I would have no business with words.”
The siege will last until those who lay the siege feel,
like the besieged, that boredom is a human attribute.
To resist means to maintain the soundness
of the heart and testicles and your interminable disease:
Writing is a puppy biting the void;
it wounds without blood.
Our coffee cups, the birds
and green trees with blue shade,
and sun leaping from wall
toward another wall, like a gazelle,
and water in clouds of endless forms
spread across whatever ration of sky is left for us,
and things whose remembrance is deferred
and this morning, strong and luminous—
all beckon we are guests of eternity.
Source: Al Karmel, Fall, 2001.
Translated by Sharif Elmusa
Ghassan Zaqtan was born in 1954 in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. He lived in Amman from 1967 to 1979 where he obtained a teacher’s training degree. He has published several collections of poetry, a novel and made two documentary films. He is editor-in-chief of the quarterly al-Shua’ra, published by the house of Poetry in Ramallah, where he lives.
The Road in Darkness
They cry out —
but it’s a night too dark to see
a hand pointing southwards
to a land sunk in shadow,
to a procession of white shrouds,
to a road of blue prayer mats….
Father, father, wake up your sons!
Stop leaning out the window!
Shake off your sadness!
at last you can walk through
a land ripe with summer!
Wake up your sons!
let them fly through this dream
as a tambourine strikes at ten on the dot
as we slink from our caves in the hills —
a pack of lean wolves
Four Sisters from Zakariya
Four sisters climb the mountain,
dressed in black
in front of the forest
— A train shunted through
of the settlement of Artov
— A horse
carried a girl
from our village, Zakariya
The horse whinnied
as it stood on the hill
behind the plain
over the ditch
Four sisters from Zakariya
are stood on the hill,
alone, dressed in black
Beirut, August 1982
How I wish he had not died
in last Wednesday’s raid
as he strolled through Nazlat al-Bir —
my friend with blond hair,
as blond as a native of the wetlands of Iraq.
Like a woman held spellbound at her loom,
all summer long the war was weaving its warp and weft.
And that song, O Beiruuuuut!,
sang from every single radio
in my father’s house in Al-Karama —
and probably in our old house in Beit Jala
(which, whenever I try to find it in the maze of the camp,
refuses to be found).
That song sang of what we knew —
it sang of our streets, narrow and neglected,
our people cheek by jowl in the slums made by war.
But the song did not sing about that summer in Beirut,
it did not tell us what was coming —
aeroplanes, bombardment, annihilation…
The song was singing while my friend from Iraq —
who’d thought I was Moroccan from the countryside there —
limped bleeding to his death…
His blond hair will never fade,
a beam of light seared into memory.
Translated by Sarah Maguire with Kate Daniels
Jabra Ibrahim Jabra
Jabra Ibrahim Jabra was born in 1920. He studied in Jerusalem and at Cambridge University, majoring in English literature. He settled in Iraq after 1948 and died there in 1994. He was a prolific novelist, short story writer, poet, painter, critic and translator. The first volume of his autobiography, The First Well: A Bethlehem Boyhood has been translated into English.
Translated by Ferial Ghazoul
The fragrance from my land
fills my chest,
evoking bygone passions
and an ever-present passion.
There I see them on the cobbled sidewalks
arguing and shouting
beneath the arches of old houses
among green grocers and leather peddlers
among porters and donkey owners
on the edge of the dale
where we played among thorns and daisies.
They sing weep laugh and dance
displaying their staves and daggers —
theirs are iron-encrusted staves
and glittering scimitars.
The shoemaker sings for a sun
emerging like a lover from his portal,
the awl flashes in his hands like hope:
he moves it from morning to morning.
Like shepherds after their sheep slumber
the lads tell stories
awaiting a miracle
hoping the loaf of bread will suffice for
ten hungry mouths
and the fish anticipates a banquet.
Then came the years of famine:
ten loaves of bread did not suffice
for one mouth,
only laughing and singing
through a bloody grin.
From morning to morning, O my beloved,
the hours drip sounds
the sun brings forth,
a bitter stinging gloom.
My first land, my paradise,
I dreamt of it in the forenoon, in the midday,
at all hours of the night.
In sorrow’s kingdom
dream is the daring knight:
he is the penetrating voice
through fences of silence;
he comes and goes, then returns
to inspect the desire he disseminated,
shimmering like silver jewellery
— pendants, necklaces and bracelets —
removed by a lover’s hand
and thrown on the bed
near a face, radiant like the sun.
Dream is the daring knight
in sorrow’s kingdom, in terror’s kingdom
and in all the kingdoms of love.
My land’s fragrance
awakening old passions,
pouncing like the perfume of a once beloved woman
left on my palms after departing —
a whiff of her hair.
Whenever the fragrance calls on me, unaware
I recall the taste of bliss on her lips.
In the land: song’s scent,
hymns from oblivion,
are triggered like genies from bottles.
O my beloved, with magnificent hair and temples,
can’t you see, heat has come
but oppression, like sorrow, is endless.
I heard voices clamouring
in black throats around me
but my ear is on the Rock listening
to sounds coming
from a distance like cavalry’s hooves
from the bottom of the rocks —
suddenly your hair flows over my face.
your perfume fills my chest.
What have you wrapped my silence with,
love or wine?
death-in-life or life-in-death?
How can I calm your love, O my land,
how can I respond,
O wound harrowing in my body like passionate love?
Samih al-Qasim was born in 1939. He has taught in Israeli public schools and has been imprisoned on political grounds. He is a prolific poet who has given the public a taste of what it is like to be an Arab in Israel.
Persona non grata
Here is the beginning of carnage.
Its finale: my lunar scream.
I understand my glass can be fragmented by a bullet. Aim well and try to assassinate me. My little ones are too young for death, crude fruit unbecoming for your masters. Aim well: my wife is safe now in her kitchen. Aim well, here I am alone reading Le Fou d’Elsa. If your sniper bends two inches he can see me: a quiet figure beside the study window.
Do come with all the dreadful fires of your malice.
Do come! Here I have a spiral ladder linking heaven to earth, a fan failing in the heat, a tank strolling on a pregnant belly, and here I have barren nations.
Skulls mounted with medals in the stock exchange of death, shoes inhabited by scorpions. Oh, for a glass of sour bitter water in exchange for my blood and tears. I haveve been wounded: my wound is vivid, my voice is vivid, my silence is vivid. I bow my heart in respect. Do come.
My affliction: dazzlement.
My wrath: supplication.
My stay is flight.
My death is combat.
I swear by fig and oil, by silence and clamor, by fertility and sterility, by honey and hemlock, by bud and blood, by ignorance and knowledge, yesterday and today, I swear to fight.
I will continue to fight!
I will continue!
Until truth is born and falsehood is vanished
I will and will, rise and sink, round and surround, release and refrain, hover and halt.
Thus it is:
a fall on to the peak of death,
stallions trotting behind in the tracks of tragicomedy.
Thus it is:
resting into a siesta on a bus seat — an enclosed prison cell.
Menstruation with sterility, sterility with menstruation, sorrow and protest, love and hate: a wasteland resort.
I will walk out of my body… I cannot bear it!
I will search for a friend.
I will depart from my step… I cannot bear it!
I will search for a road.
There is no road but me
and these are my steps.
In my body is the next step.
[ . . . . ]
Whither go the doves?
Whence come the waves of swallows?
Forbidden to me to cross again and again the threshold of my questions, forbidden to me my food and drink.
If I do not restore the markings of my face and recover the flame of pride
Forbidden to me my land.
Forbidden to me my sky.
Fashionable freaks flutter around my grave, having dropped time.
They said: Do you sing?
I said: I will sing in the name of him who kills the awaited life.
In the name of my beginning and end
And a song strangled with string.
I will sing my second elegy,
the geography of distant words and elevated images.
I will sing my flesh on bloody roads
and the Book of my exodus from the cruel paradise.
I will sing to my name,
I will sing in my name,
and in my name the sea swallows the crew of a lost submarine.
And the death storm sings its splendid melodies.
In my name, my name is written on water
and my body is erased on water.
They said and I said.
They assailed and I assaulted.
I am the problem.
The sniper of Beirut tarried. Death spared me in my exile, my homeland, my shroud, my Golgotha.
There is no solution, warring or peaceful. .. I am the problem.
I am: the songs and the wheat buds, the cannons and the bombs.
There is no good without me
and no evil without me.
I am: the impossible possible the beautiful ugly the tall short the intruding enemy the honorable friend the lowly mighty the noble rogue the serious boor the slim stout the sand palm the lightning flood the desert ruin
I am the sky scrapers the sky the absence the advent the ascent the descent
I am the impossible possible
There is no shade but me
No form but me
no solution but me
My burden is as large as my back
My back is as large as my life
My life is as large as my patience
And my patience is graceful, graceful
And my patience is spacious, spacious.
Translated by Ferial Ghazoul
Sharif S. Elmusa
Sharif S. Elmusa was born in the village of al-Abbasiyya, Palestine. He is a widely published poet, scholar, and translator. He has co-edited, and contributed to, the anthology, Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry, first issued by Utah University Press in 1988, and then re-issued in 1999 in paperback edition by Interlink Books. He has translated extensively from Arabic poetry. At present he is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Middle East Stidies Programme at the American University of Cairo.
Dozing off on the train late in the evening,
I miss my stop. I am tired
and can hardly walk up the stairs
to the opposite side.
I think of the old man telling me
how he used to walk for three or four hours
in the field, then hold the calves of his legs
and ask each of them if it could do more.
My legs feel his legs as they climb.
I loiter around the gray platform.
A man inspects a cigarette butt
with almost admiring attitude
then crushes it gently under his shoe.
A man and a woman talk of going
on a long journey south, perhaps inspired
by the full desert moon.
In this station faraway from downtown
there are no astonished statues
of Ancient Egyptians
reminding you how it is all out of joint.
Trying to lean against a wall
I see a file of ants running fiercely
up and down along a crack in the cement.
The ones crawling down haul tiny pieces
of straw; the ones ascending aim for the store.
Their dark bodies, shiny under a strong light,
touch on the run. None lingers or strays.
What drives them, patience or hope?
Don’t their legs balk?
The body pokes the meddling mind
to mind its own business. It pricks up
its ears to listen for the sweet rumble
of the train. It craves the wide bed,
and the absent woman
to crawl beside.
A bright, three-quarters moon
beams in the eastern sky
over four million households.
Is it the same moon that
the wise Thoth fixed? This one
looks like it doesn’t wish to be alone,
could land in the lap
of a satellite dish any moment.
The neighbor’s dog howls.
My grandmother used to say
a long dog howl meant the family
was in trouble. But it is hard to tell
with such polished howl. The train,
as if hauling the vast woes of the city,
blows a grave, far-reaching whistle.
But the windows of many apartments
have already drawn their curtains.
The fountain in the square has gone to sleep.
The flowers of the Peruvian jacaranda
are completely still in the new home.
No wind is blowing.
The world moves the mind
like power the ceiling fan;
the poem is the breeze.
In The Middle of Ramadam
In this city where men and women
exchange passions in secret;
in the middle of the month of Ramadan,
the month of fasting and feasting,
of the body’s hegemony,
I went to meet my lover
at the conclusive hour,
when the day completes its last fable
and solar force gives way
to lunar stratagem
and the breeze feels
like it has touched the river
and the plea of the muezzin
and the blast of the cannon
grant us a break
from pleasing the Lord
and proclaim this world as ours;
when the gatekeeper of her building
fastens his eyes
on the bread spread with blessings
fastens them on the dates,
dark and potent, like coffee,
reassuring as the oasis—then
I slipped through the gate
straight to her doorbell,
my hunger in full flower
and she opened the door,
tender from the wait.
Translated by Sharif Elmusa
Fadwa Tuqan was born in 1917. She was educated at home and initiated into poetry by her brother, Ibrahim Tuqan, the well-known Palestinian poet. She has published several collections of poetry and an autobiography, A Mountain Journey, which has been translated to English.
To Christ the Lord on his Birthday
But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
St. Mark’s Gospel XII: 7-8
O Lord, O glory of the universe,
crucified this year on your birthday,
are the joys of Jerusalem
silenced on your birthday?
O Lord, all the bells
for two millenia have not been silenced
on your birthday
except for this year:
the domes of the bells are in mourning,
black wrapped in black.
Jerusalem along the Via Dolorosa,
whipped under the cross of ordeal,
bleeding at the hands of the executioner,
and the world is a sealed heart
in the face of affliction.
In this hard indifferent world, O Lord,
the sun’s eye is smothered: the world went astray
and was lost.
In the ordeal it did not even raise a candle.
It did not even shed a tear
to wash away the sorrows in Jerusalem.
The husbandmen killed the heir, O Lord,
and raped the vineyard.
The sinners of the world fledged the bird of evil
dashing off to defile the purity of Jerusalem,
damned and infernal, hated even by Satan.
O Lord, O glory of Jerusalem,
from the well of sorrows, from the abyss,
from the depth of the night,
from the heart of plight,
the wails of Jerusalem are raised up to you.
In your mercy, take away from me, O Lord, this cup!
Translated by Ferial Ghazoul
Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalih
Poems from The Book of Sana’a
Translations by Issa J Boullata
The Moderism of al-Maqalih
In his poetry and literary criticism Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalith is a moderist voice, not only in his own country of Yemen but also in the Arabian Peninsula as a whole and there he is certainly the first modernist voice. Before al-Maqalith appeared on the poetry scene in that part of the Arab world, poetry still repeated the echoes of ancient Arabic poetry, heedless of the battles raging between the old and the new in other centres of Arabic poetry such as Bagdad, Demascus, Beirut, and Cairo.
Because the eak educational system, poetry was more oral than written and “Nabati poetry”, oral poetry in the local Arabic dialects, was the most commonly performed in the region. But with the appearance of a poetic voice such as that of al-Maqalith, who had been educated in Cairo, this picture gradually began to change.
Al-Maqalith not only offered poetic forms and topics different from those prevailing, but also strenthened modernist orientation in the Arabian Peninsula through his literary criticism. In other words, he moved into Yemen the battle of modernism, which subsequently proceeded in various degrees to the other countries of the Peninsula. In this sense, al-Maqalith is considered there the pioneer of poetic modernism.
However, the great influence that this Yemeni poet and critic wielded did not stop there: he also played an eminent educational role, realizing that modernism could not be victorious, nor become rooted in societies suffering from comprehensive backwardness. He put his efforts into strengthening the role of education especially at university level; he participated in the establishment of the University of Sana’a, of which he was for many years president.
As president of the first university in Yemen, al-Maqalith attracted a number of professors from other parts of the Arab world known for their modernist orientation; he held many literary conferences and meetings while, while strengthening this orientation, displeased the traditionalists especially those of a religious leaning whose hostility to him went so far as to become a treat to his life.
But al-Maqalith did not change course, neither as modernist poet nor as president of a university from which he graduated thousands of students who had become open to the modernist literary programs prevailing in the world. Yemen today has a lively cultural movement, fully involved in issues such as modernism (and poetic modernism, in particular), that could not possibly have existed with this richness had it not been for the pioneering efforts of Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalith, whose poetry was the seed from which the tree of poetic modernism in Yemen has grown.
The first poem
It is the capital
of the soul.
Its gates are seen
-and the gates
of paradises are seven.
Each of its gates realises a wish
for the stranger.
From whatever gate you enter,
peace be to you.
Peace be to the city
whose water is delightful,
whose winter is genial brightness,
and whose summer is gentle heat.
It wakes up
at a downpour of light,
and goes out of the dusk of time
as a lady
in the fullness of femininitv.
Has it flowed from the book of legends?
Has it come from the singing of violets?
Or have the folk songs brought it
from the fountain
of an ancient dream?
Mecca is the capital of the Qur’an,
Paris the capital of art,
London the capita1 of the economy,
Washington the capital of power,
Cairo the capital of history,
Baghdad the capital of poetry,
Damascus the capital of roses,
and Sana’a is the capital of the soul.
In its depths is a treasure
hidden for dreams.
In its expanses, joyous weddings
From its stones, patterns and hymns
And the colour white writes
its luxurious poems,
and niglzt records its legends
heavy with bunches of sorrow
and censers of perfume.
On the smooth inner wall
of the Gate of Yemen,
a Yemeni poet wrote:
“Sana’a is the tavern of light, enter it
in peace and kiss the ground tenfold.
And squeeze its charming virgin beauty
a nectar that adds a lifetime to your life.”
The twelfth poem
He is the madman possessed by Sana’a.
He walks on his own heart
and travels on the carpet of beautiful mystical trips.
He has no friends but the mulberry trees of homes,
whose children and old women he engages with
with strange words.
Has he lived or has he been living
for two thousand years,
as mystical trips claim,
one by one,
speaking in more than one tongue,
and changing his feet once every century
then resting his walking stick?
Excerpt from long poem
translated by Sargon Boulus
This is your name —
a woman said,
and vanished through the winding corridor
There I see heaven within reach.
The wing of a white dove carries me
towards another childhood. And I never
that I was dreaming. Everything is real.
I knew I was casting myself aside …
and flew. I shall become what I will
in the final sphere. And everything
is white. The sea suspended
upon a roof of white clouds. Nothingness is
in the white heaven of the absolute.
I was and was not. In this eternity’s white
I’m alone. I came before I was due;
no angel appeared to tell me:
“What did you do back there, in the world?”
I didn’t hear the pious call out,
nor the sinners moan for I’m alone
in the whiteness. I’m alone.
Nothing hurts at the door of doom.
Neither time nor emotion. I don’t feel
the lightness of things, or the weight
of apprehensions. I couldn’t find
anyone to ask: Where is my where now?
Where is the city of the dead,
and where am I? Here
in this no-here, in this no-time,
there’s no being, nor nothingness.
As if I had died once before,
I know this epiphany, and know
I’m on my way towards what I don’t know.
Perhaps I’m still alive somewhere else,
and know what I want.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a thought,
taken to the wasteland
neither by the sword or the book
as if it were rain falling on a mountain
split by a burgeoning blade of grass,
where neither might will triumph,
nor justice the fugitive.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a bird,
and wrest my being from my non-being.
The longer my wings will burn,
the closer I am to the truth, risen from the
I am the dialogue of dreamers; I’ve shunned
my body and self
to finish my first journey towards meaning,
whIch burnt me, and disappeared.
I’m absence. I’m the heavenly renegade.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a poet,
water obedient to my insight. My language a
for metaphor, so I will neither declaim nor
point to a place;
place is my sin and subterfuge.
I’m from there. My here leaps
from my footsteps to my imagination …
I am he who I was or will be,
made and struck down
by the endless, expansive space.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a vine;
let summer distil me even now,
and let the passers-by drink my wine,
illuminated by the chandeliers of this sugary
I am the message and the messenger,
I am the little addresses and the mail.
One day I shall become what I want.
This is your name —
a woman said,
and vanished in the corridor of her
This is your name; memorise it well!
Do not argue about any of its letters,
ignore the tribal flags,
befriend your horizontal name,
experience it with the living
and the dead, and strive
to have it correctly spelt
in the company of strangers and carve it
into a rock inside a cave:
O my name, you will grow
as I grow, you will carry me
as I will carry you;
a stranger is brother to a stranger;
we shall take the female with a vowel
devoted to flutes.
O my name: where are we now?
Tell me: What is now? What is tomorrow?
What’s time, what’s place, what’s old, what’s
One day we shall become what we want.
From The Garden sleeps by my Bed
I stole away my hand
when sleep kissed her
I covered her dreams
looked at honey behind
two eyelids and prayed
before two miraculous legs.
I bent over her continuous pulse
and saw wheat over ivory
A drop of my blood cried
and I quivered—
the garden was asleep in my bed
I didn’t look back at my soul
and she continued her sleep.
I heard the old ringing of her steps
and the bells of my heart
– her key in her purse
and she asleep like an angel
who has just made love.
Night spreading over the rain of the road
and many sounds reach me
except the sound coming from her pulse.
I went to the door
and the door opened
and I left and it closed
and my shadow also left behind me.
Why do I say “farewell?”
From now on
I’ve become a stranger to memory
and to my home.
Mahmoud Darwish’s collection
Judariya [Mural], Rind El-Rayyes Books,
Sammer Abu Hawwash
Sammer Abu Hawwash was born in Beirut. He has published two collections of poetry and works as a arts journalist for Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, Beirut.
Translated by Sharif S Elmusa
A cold day
A cold day
I don’t think at all
to tum on the heat
wear a third sweater
or stand by the window
and wait for the rain
because it won’t fall today
it will fall tomorrow
and I won’t ask ever
how old I’ve become
at this hour
it is sometimes sufficient to sit
it is a cold day
Mere abstraction my saying
resembles a planet
the bed an island
mere idiocy too
my weeping now
but these are
by the day
The clothes line
and left the clothes line behind
why didn’t they forget at least
one piece of clothing
The very handsome man
For my Father
They found him thus:
a green plant
had tethered his shadow
to the ground and said:
so he doesn’t inadvertently sleep
thus they found him
the very handsome man
side by side
A scene from the film Grandma’s Dog
The dog slept in grandma’s bed
and grandma stood by the flower pot
The weather approached and said:
The fishermen arrived
and grandma bought one fish
her sons were far away
and the kids at school
she ate one half
and fed one half to the dog
grandma lonely for many years
stands by the flower pot
and curses her sons.
translated from the author’s poetry collection
AI-Hayat Tutba’a fi New York [Life, Printing in
New York] , Dar al-]adid, Beirut 1996
Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1952, to a Palestinian father and an American mother She has a BA from Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, where she still lives. She is the author of numerous collections of poems, and has received many awards. Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East.
For Moham med Zeid, Age 15
There is no stray bullet, sirs.
No bullet like a worried cat
crouching under a bush,
no half-hairless puppy bullet
dodging midnight streets.
The bullet could not be a pecan
plunking the tin roof,
not hardly, no fluff of pollen
on October’s breath,
no humble pebble in the street.
So don’t gentle it, please.
We live among stray thoughts,
tasks abandoned midstream.
Our fickle hearts are fat
with stray devotions, we feel at home
among bits and pieces,
all the wandering ways of words.
But this bullet had no innocence, did not
wish anyone well, you can’t tell us otherwise
by naming it mildly, this bullet was never the
of life, should not be granted immunity
by soft saying – friendly fire, straying death-eye,
why have we given the wrong weight to what we
Mohammed, Mohammed, deserves the truth.
This bullet had no secret happy hopes,
it was not singing to itself with eyes closed under
like the exiled lady in her precious faded hat.
Your Weight, at Birth
Watching the Palestinian men
emerge from the Church of the Nativity,
I considered birth: being bom into light again
after so many cramped weeks inside,
bom into air and space,
how we wish the best for one another when
is being bom, born into deportation and exile,
born, and banished.
Across the street, their women were wailing.
They could not greet or hug them.
The men were shuffled onto buses
to be sent away.
On the white and dusty street of Bethlehem,
where so many travelers have stood
holding candles, wrapped in song,
the prisoner men, in their own town.
An American TV announcer’s voice sounded
to be present at the births—
over and over again
he hailed the table of sandwiches and bottled
provided by Israeli soldiers
who actually looked perplexed
whenever the camera came in close.
One is born to wear a helmet, carry large artillery.
One is born to be thin, to wear raggedy clothes
and be shot in the leg. And some are born
to wonder, wonder, wonder.
Seema Atalla was born in New York, completed high school in Amman, Jordan, and now lives in California. She has an MA in Comparative Literature (1992) from GCLA. Her translations have appeared in US literary magazines Mediterraneans, Passport, Prairie Schooner, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattapallax and others.
She is nearly ninety. Boats dock in her eyes. Gulls
nest on her knees.
She sits and swings. The springy seat rocks back
and forth across the border gliding between here
She was born by the sea, a treasured daughter
arriving after three sons. Her mother called her
Victoria and she carried herself like a queen.
Now she is nearly ninety and she sails a small
craft in changeful waters. Waves, fish, sea spray
beckon. When I sit beside her the hull skims
smooth across the surface, the spray dazzles like
Acre where it all began.
Her mother stands on the shore of her girlhood,
blessing her with incense.
She smuggles her embroidery home from school
to work on it in the evenings.
Her brothers take her on outings: to the cinema; to
She is fifteen with two long plaits, engaged to be
She sews, rocking an infant with her feet.
Her sons are grown; she oversees the workmen,
watching her own house being built stone by
No sooner does toe touch sand than we are
whisked away again.
Behind us the sea keeps swelling. Stories well up
in the surf; the currents of old sorrows run deep
beneath. The past surges up to a crest and
crashes, grainy and drenching. A momentary
lull, then it rises again.
Once she stood stocky, strident, certain. She
greeted guests with a glimmer on her lips;
whispered to the nearest granddaughter in
conspiratory confidence where to find sweets
and nuts for offering. She rose daily at dawn to
water her garden: apricots, almonds, fennel,
geraniums flourished under her capable hands.
I was her namesake, though she had hoped for a
boy. She crocheted me dresses, brushed my hair
with olive oil, gave me her bracelets.
Now she is nearly ninety. Pensive, dreamy. As I
swing beside her, we slip in and out of time. She
speaks; I cup my hands to catch glittering
angelfish, starfish, bright coral.
Pyjamas for soldiers, cut with big scissors.
Her mother’s name, “Rida”, God well pleased.
A long hospital stay; in the end, a folk remedy.
A stray bullet, cracked window, nursing infant.
Mornings in Haifa, sitting at the seaside. All the
ladies for miles around gathered by that shore.
This year they flare late
igniting the skyline with bursts of lavender
interrupting spring’s indolent green
with blinding reminders of you
This May they abound
lovely elbows bent with effort
branches scraping, sudsy blossoms
scouring the metallic sky
This spring they litter the ground
with spendthrift abandon
exquisite purple embers
smoulder in the grass
Cool blue nuns, they linger through June
murmuring Kyrie Eleison
As if you were still here
rooted and radiant
so slender, so tender
But the slab of your absence
is lodged like a bone
in the throat of this riotous lavender
From shoulder to bustline to waist to knee you
Because you have to be sure, measure again.
Pin the line before you cut.
If you have a daughter, you have a good way to
Make her a dress out of one of your old dresses.
Something with simple shoulder straps would be
easy to start with.
Start sewing at twenty.
Keep sewing until your eldest son graduates from
Then he can help support the family.
You will build a reputation.
One day you may have elegant clients,
the wives of army majors, ladies who can pay well.
Sixty years later, your fingers will remember the
punch of each pin.
They will never forget the stiffness of scissors
nor the smooth friction of a tape measure pulled
between finger and thumb.
Saud el-Asadi was born and lives in the Galilee.
At the water well
When I saw her bend over
the mouth of the well
to lift the water
a room inside my dark body
I approached her, gingerly,
“What’re you staring at down in the well?”
“Something like a sun in the shade/’
“What are you staring at in the well?”
And she said:
“Strange, how is an image made in the water?”
And I inched closer
like a child
and with her back turned to me
she crooned in jest:
“Watch out, don’t push me in.”
And with her back still turned to me
she looked down into the enchanting well
and beheld the image
of my lips fluttering
And she leapt, in fright—
was someone watching us?and
combed the place
once and once more
until she was convinced
we were alone;
then she walked back on tiptoe
and bent over the well
and peered down to see
if our lips were still
fluttering in the water.
Translated by Sharif S Elmusa
Izzidin al-Manasrah was born in 1946 in Hebron. He has a PhD in Slavic literature from the Bulgarian Academy of Science. He was director of cultural programs for Jordanian Radio and editor of Palestinian Affairs magazine. Since 1984, he has been secretary-general of the Arab Contemporary Literary Society, based in Amman, where he lives. He has published many critical studies and collections of poem.
With green we wrapped him
We wrapped him in a shroud
of green, white and black.
A red triangle on a rectangular flag.
We wrapped him with a lifetime of
suffering and grief.
The cedar trees bled with rain.
As we carried him, he bled.
The white rain clouds wept.
A flock of doves sang with joy.
A Bedouin woman waited
for her beloved in Damascus.
With green, white and black we wrapped
He was a Lebanese from Hebron,
an Iraqi from Galilee,
a Syrian from Egypt,
an Algerian from Morocco.
We buried him within our hearts.
Rain bled from our eyes,
nourishing grass seeds in the soil.
With green and red we wrapped him.
A Bedouin woman waited in Damascus.
Why did you suddenly depart?
In the cities of silver
the poets of the metaphysical rose died.
The poets of the meadow spread into the
We wrapped him with green, red, white
A Bedouin woman approached me
Bearing secret writings.
They told me “Be silent!” I held my tongue.
They told me “Speak!” I set it free.
They said something more, but I could not
I followed my loved ones.
The wind asks nothing.
The yellow sand and sea weave
When sleep comes upon us.
Oh, red rose. Oh, pouring blood.
Do not whiten.
With green and red we covered him.
He departs planting kisses between our eyes
Oh Mother, what do your eyes see?
He dies between flames.
Between stray bullets.
He dies between whispers and words.
When the cock crows, he dies.
At dawn, he dies.
Do not ask how.
It is Beirut!
Only the olive trees understand.
Trees like my mother’s braids,
protect me from the harsh day’s rain.
As green as the water in the Bay of Aqaba.
My roots go deeper in.
He was brave. Solid like the olive trees.
With green we wrapped him.
With red, white and black.
With a lifetime of sorrow and grief.
from the author’s collection of the same name,
(originally published in 1976) and translated from
his Collected Works, published by al-Muassassa al-
Arabiyya lil dirassat wal nashr, Amman, 2001, 5th printing.
Jihad Hudaib was born in Amman, where he now works as a journalist on Ad-Dastour newspaper. He has published his poetry in several magazines. He published one collection of poetry in 1999.
Translated by Seema Atalla
Voice from the deep,
of an ancient icon
You had moons; when longing overcame them
the water stirred;
roks bared themselves on the shore
and the mountain sighed.
The moon I’ve been saving has hardened.
The dew which moistened the roses
and their longing for the coming loved one
has dried up.
Poetry gave you its bread.
It took me from pain.
I had been passing the time with death
on the edge
ever since hunger burrowed its way into me.
You made silence a gentle land.
Now you dig for memories.
In the beginning was the sunset
There I was born, with my photograph
hanging on its wall.
the fire is spreading
I gave the house pathways
they were taken
by rain which fell bringing sand
so I inhabited the night, street by street
and where the wind collected me
a woman scattered me.
Silence . . .
. . . Memories.
A darkness descended, exchanging one
people for another, changing names. My
voice became salty. I couldn’t find my way in
that crowd, so I wandered solitary as a stray
bullet, feeling my
way towards my buried desire, like a blind
man who sees his own face with his
Love at thirty
Continuing what Ylisuf Abd al-Aziz has
been saying for the past ten years.
Your disappointed voice
its huskiness brings back memories
like the sound of distant water
trickling through pebbles.
The hazel of your eyes
doesn’t go well with the white;
it mingles with absent desires.
You’re like a pine tree on a hill:
A bird which pecked more than one branch has
departed for a distant autumn, carrying only the
splinter of your silence and one fallen feather
borne by the breeze.
I have made mvself a home around the tree.
You’ll open the’ door. That was sweeter when it
rained: it was fruit washed for my sake.
In the passageway there’s a jasmine bush whose
fragrance betrays the confusion it feels at the
sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.
The tree was completely bare
when evening arrived abruptly
draped itself over the tree
then erased the footsteps and the stairs.
The tree remains on the hill
reaching it is a dream
born of a longing easy to betray
from the collection Ma Amkana Khiyanatuhu,
wa Yusamma al-Alam, published by al-Muassassa,
al-Arabiyya lil dirassat wal nashr al-Nashr, Beirut, 1999.
Sharif S Elmusa
Sharif S Elmusa was born near Jaffa and grew up in the al-Nuwayima refugee camp near Jericho. He has a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has taught at Georgetown University. He is a poet, translator, and an expert on Middle East water resources. He has published his poetry in many Amencan poetry journals and anthologies, and co-edited Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry (1999), also translated a number of Arab poets including Nizar Qabbani. He is director of the Middle East Studies programme and associate professor of Political Science at the American University of Cairo.
At birth my parents called me
Sharif Said Hussein Elmusa
and on and on – a caravan of names
as if to rein me in from straying
on the crooked routes,
But one night, on a high balcony,
under a full, urban moon,
a mountain woman
from the Rockies held me
in the clear pond of her eyes,
as if I was the first Adam,
And I followed love.
casual and efficient,
inventor of the T-shirt that
simplifier of the race found
my name baroque,
bulging with self-importance,
yanked out grandfather
even before old age
to an initial, S.
Then the editors finished the job,
excised the atavistic S.
and left me to dream like
someone who lost his paradise I
walk in stealth
in the city streets, barefoot,
with only my underwear on.
See, my incurable yen
to keep going or coming
to Damascus and Rabat
Cairo and Amman
is not just turning the other cheek.
There, the security men at the border
keep their rugged names and moustaches,
scrutinize my left-to-right passport
and poke fun at me for going back home
to Washington. They never fail
to ask about my father’s name;
and I savour enunciating it,
More satisfying, still,
are the gatekeepers of Israel.
How they relish information.
They don’t let go
until they have dug up,
among other things,
the names of my birthplace
(the village their fathers
and grandfathers had taken
and re-configured, dwellings and name)
until they have dug up my known lineage
right down to the clan.
The thighs in Petra pass
Match me such a maroel, save in Eastern clime
A rose-red city, halfas old as time
Full of desire
the memory came
out of the pass
out of mini-skirted thighs
rocking on horseback
taking in the dew
of early spring morning
taking in the rose-red
of the rocks
like a garden conceived
with the rising sun.
They pulled the young boy
on a school trip
to learn about the golden past
of the forebears
pulled him along their side
fastened on their architecture
heart beating faster
than the heart of a galloping horse
prayers to God
to tame the lust
crouching like a beast
in his crotch
and the clouds gathering
and the flood flashing
through the desert
of his body.
The memory last night
spurred on the middle-aged man
in a Gothic hotel
by the train station
in a curb-tiled city
wet with drizzle
of summer clouds
spurred him on
between the likeness
of the thighs
in Petra pass.
For Ferial Ghazoul
The Peruvian jacaranda
a flame of purple flowers
on Hasan Sabri Street.
Where is home?
A Heap of Broken Images
War takes us lightly
What makes the man
like an uncertain river,
what to have for dinner
which film to see
when he last had a haircut —
what makes this man
close one eye
through the telescope of his rifle
and become the most precise,
direct of animals?
In today’s toll, a row of men
with blindfolded eyes
and surrendered hands
squat, backs hunched,
before a stone wall.
A young boy stays home,
by himself, for five days
with the corpses of his family.
A man gestures with loathing
about how a soldier had defecated
on his bed, An old woman flails
her arms in despair, begging
the distant heavens.
To feel the humiliation,
touch the grief of each
you would have to become a monster
with many hearts.
I miss my Boston dentist.
The first time I met him
and before injecting the Novocain
into my anxious gums,
and asked where I was from.
From Palestine, I answered.
“How is the weather in Palestine?”
he wished to know.
The weather there is temperate,
soil terra rosa.
The shepherds on the hills
have all but disappeared.
Winter sends modest rains,
animates the hardened earth:
red poppies swaying in the breeze,
little spokesmen of beauty;
cotton flowers, purple,
on erect stems, the pricks of their thorns
final, like the rebellious gestures of Jesus.
Summer’s sun is reliable, vertical.
The old man would be dejected
without cartloads of watermelons.
No blunt pleasures.
Season blends into season
in good faith.
With New Englanders
vou muffle the sandstorms.
The last time I saw my cousin, Miqdad,
before this last war, he was back home
for good from the rich Gulf. There, he circulated,
imperfectly, tending the business of men
with superior luck. To make the worth
of his long migration visible, he built a house,
a handsome house on a hilltop,
the essential dish raised over the red-tiled roof,
netting the news – the chewing qat of Palestine.
He said life was roughly right.
He cherished the drizzle of each day:
dinner served on time, a kid’s good grade,
the marigolds’ longevity in the austere garden.
With his sharp face and something always in his
hand, he looked like a figure in an ancient
presenting, with singular delight, an offering to the
But the soldiers weren’t invited.
They banged on the metal door of the house
and kicked it with their boots
and when he opened it they made him turn
and stuck the gun into his back.
They used him as “a human shield,”
to search the house, room after neat room,
and made him dig with a hoe
they fetched from an armored car
the earth-fill of what used to be a cistern
where he might have hidden arms.
The next day a blood clot clogged
the left side of his brain.
His eyelids are now lowered, at half-mast;
the few words his mouth utters,
hieroglyphic fish and birds.
Watching Greece in World War II
getting chopped “like a pine tree”,
George Seferis could only speak
“in fables and parables . . .
because it’s more gentle that way and horror
really can’t be talked about because it’s alive,
because it’s mute and goes on growing:
drips by day drips in sleep.”
Omar Shabbanah was born in 1958. He has two collections of poems and is a cultural correspondent for several Arab newspapers and lives in Amman.
translated by Mona Zaki
Tonight they come
arresting tender shoots from the walls of the home
arresting lilies and olives
arresting fresh rosebuds
arresting the night
the lemon water
the very substance of happiness from my chest
the vessel of sleep
the cup of rest
and the violated dance
Tonight they come
arresting the earth and all that they leave
is fire on a haunted horizon.
Apologies to a city*
When I sang for her
my heart was a sail spread out
my blood a dowry to her hands.
I, the star of sleeping cities,
a marathon horse
Don’t come between my heart and that of the city
Don’t ruin our love
You who toy with the wings of a capital
I am her heart and her hands
How often have I tilled her streets
walked her stones
how I leaned against her waist for time
and dreamt of a fire warming us in the bitter cold.
When I sang
I lifted her up beyond the venom of snakes
offering her head to Spring
My heart was a sail spread out
my blood a dowry for her hands
I pulled down the brightness of her stars
and her trees to shade her pedestrians
The city knows me
Ask the pavements
about my ribs that hugged her strongly
I did not displace her
The city knows me
Ask her restaurants
about a thin man
when in hunger his feet guided him to her
Ask her about the dispersed lover
ask every coffee house and bar
ask every face
The city is my lover
Ask her naughty lips about the dream
and who sent the clouds to her gardens
Ask her waist
who strung the larks in the fields like a belt
creating shapely slenderness
Ask her breasts
who allowed its flowers to open
its birds to sing
Ask her blood in the streets
who ignited the fire
flooding the alleyways
in a river of jasmine
Ahmad Dahbour was born in 1946 in Haifa and since 1948 has lived in exile. In 1972 he became a political editor for the Palestinian Broadcasting Agency in Syria. He now lives in Gaza City where he is a director in the Ministry of Culture. He has published several collections of poetry, and in 1998 was awarded the Palestine Award for Poetry.
Translated by Hassan Hilmy
As the walls, in their notched neutrality, shrank
and the sky got trapped between the curtain at
the window and the sea zenith,
I watched my cup of coffee
gradually getting cooler.
Well, I must make some fresh coffee.
That was just a pretext:
the walls remain neutral
and the curtain does not reveal more of the sky.
Enter, suddenly, Tarafa bin al-‘Abd
with his hot blood and twenty-four year lifespan
He took off his head and put it down on the desk,
As a soldier would put his helmet down
on the dining board.
I examined the neck
but could find no trace of the sword blow.
Then Rimbaud came in and placed his amputated
there on the doorstep
beside his thirty-seventh year.
I at once rolled half a century and ten frustrations
into a ball
and aimed a pointless question.
Which of us is the eldest?
I asked, as I was making fresh coffee.
Ibn al-‘Abd put his head back on
and told me that he was unable to get a birth
As for bored Rimbaud,
he resuscitated the alphabet
and let fall his seventeenth year.
He soon referred me to his poem
‘Poets at the Age of Seven’.
He added: I am 37, 17, or 7,
all these are my years.
At what age, then, would you like to apprehend
Now, as I drink coffee alone
I put words together and they keep failing me.
I am not of Tarafa’s generation.
I am twenty-seven years older,
and he is one thousand four hundred and six
years older than me.
I know of no way to capture Rimbaud in one
When I drew back the curtain
the sky did not grow any vaster
and the sea was not greater than me,
for the sea was being born
from a question rubbing itself against a rock.
Alone, alone am I,
not like Tarafa’s tar-smeared camels
but like a paved road on a Tunisian summer day,
Alone, all alone with no friends of my generation,
I have no games to play
and no warm coffee.
I go into the bathroom and draw the curtain.
And as soon as the water flows
to relieve me of the dust of fatigue and confusion,
I stick out my tongue at Tarafa and Rimbaud
and at the other guy whose features I could not
But he was born on the same day as I
in Harrari or Shanghai
It is very likely that Bill Clinton and I
were born in the same year.
Is he then of my own generation?
Does ‘generation’ mean lifetime?
Or is it the emanation of joy and pain out of the
portal of space
orr out of the lash of questions?
As for the earth and the outer space,
they were fornicating in public,
and the one they could not have begotten
I, the one born not as he would have liked to be,
the one who always forgets his coffee until it gets
the one who keeps his tricks in his mirror,
hereby affirm that I have seen the people of my
generation on the streets.
But how can I prove it?
Fruits or Copper
But we picked two roses.
We got out from of our fingers and islands
walked on our feet,
We smote the winds’ flanks. Some women chased
We admitted that we had loitered long
so that we could meet by chance.
Our stones dashed and destroyed the chairs.
We joined forces and we were afraid.
With a thousand hands I was trying hard,
finding strength in my own doubts.
With a thousand hands I was looking at the day.
I was hard on the boats.
And we differed about on the sea that had
abandoned the harbours.
If we had wandered in Diaspora, we did take a
a chance for which we were blamed.
We’d summoned the earthquake
and committed countries made of fruits and
Once or twice we lived as we fancied.
How then should we be branded as a ‘generation
from Al-Karmel magazine.
No 60, Summer 1999, Ramallah
A Vague Question
My distant and safe friends
in their houses
on their streets
in their offices
and their playgrounds
sent me messages asking “Are you still alive?”
They did not write again
once they received
If I don’t surround my heart
in the time of rebellions
into which I was born
my loved ones will forget to tend the small
on the chest of my grave
as I have left the graves
of my friends
How could he have ignited all this anger
without a smack or a shove from anyone . . .
How could he bear all this iron in the dimness of
He erects his body within his mound of steel,
inserts his finger in the trigger ring,
I leap with my eyes to the window,
half of me under the cover and the other half . . .
No heroism in the matter, no Imru al-Qais.
My ears are plugged with lead
and my eyes with the cold darkness.
twenty thousand sleepers
lop off their dreams
and are jolted right at this moment
even though there isn’t a glimmer of an eye
shining in the street.
I wait for the muezzin to raise his dawn cry to
My mother grinds the air,
pours it handful by handful in an old bowl —
a hand in a bowl —
and turns the millstone . . .
—I’ll grind the last of the wheat and keep at home my
the millstone’s jaws grind her tears . . .
—and I’ll stay up all night with you and I won’t inquire
the millstone’s jaws grind her heart . . .
—and if I’m burned on my wound, I’ll weather my fire
The millstone’s jaws grind
in this refugee camp
Translated from his collection
Waja’a al-Zujaj [Paill of Glass], House of Poetry,
Ramallah, and from unpublished poems
Anas al-Ayla was born in 1975 in Qalqiliya. He graduated from Birzeit University with a degree in Arabic and a diploma in journalism in 1998. He lives in Ramallah and works for al-Shuara quarterly of the Palestinian House of Poetry.
Under an imminent sky
My god and I
come from one city
under a imminent sky
near a beloved river
and from dust where people were planted
and from which clouds rose.
He creates me and I love him.
He carries my name to me
like a glass of water.
I bespeak his name
he bespeaks mine.
My god and I are friends
as if we were the fruit of a single sky.
used to walk this alley
in the dawn of mankind
and among their dreams.
He drank water from the clay jug
that still quenches my thirst.
He divides bread among us
the way we share sunlight.
Behind his step
and windows arise like dawns
on the chests of every house.
He is born every morning
before my open window
so that I may rise, regretting my sleep
unlike those who awoke satisfied
after a single dream
and before dew dries from their foreheads.
I make a window of my mirror
and a mirror of my window.
I make my day out of water and sun,
and the eyes of those who come
toward my chest are peaceful,
their shadows bearing smiles.
The sky around me
is close like grape clusters.
Stars are mingled with stones
and life with eternity.
My god and I are from a city
where the sun erases
no one’s shadow
and where no soul or body
My wardrobe is on the pavement
on a busy street
causing passers-by’s laughter and horror.
Filled with clothes
sweaters and trousers
and my dark black suit
. . . the wardrobe is open.
Who’s stealing the blue shirt?
with its white frame
and its blue-grey sheets
is under a tree
in the city park.
A beggar is sitting on it,
suspicious, sniffing the pillow.
He tests the softness of the bed
and lies in it and looks around him.
A boy is filling my socks with sand.
He ties them tightly so they WIll not spill.
He makes a mound of them around him
and kicks them.
My books are being thrown on a pavement
in the market place.
An old man
is holding them up, waving them about
for someone to buy them.
My gifts, photo album,
my sunglasses, cell phone . . .
a teenager is toying with them
in the corner of a dark street
and sharing them with his friends.
My hand is suspended in a mirror.
It remains there
belonging to no one
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mohammad H Ghanaiem
Mohammad H Ghanaiem was born in 1957 in Baqa El-Gharbiya in the Meshlash area. He studied at Tel Aviv University and worked for many years as a journalist. 1984-1991 he was editor of Mefgash Hebrew-Arabic cultural magazine. He is now a researcher and editor. He has four poetry collections and two books of prose, and translates works between Arabic and Hebrew.
When the weeping abandons our pale streets
and the foreign cafes paint on kohl, scoffing
their suns swinging on guillotines scattered
in the sky of the destroyer, eternity,
the sea will come to us with its white sails
slicing the horizon like a sword that flashes
with primeval shining.
Here is the sea accepting its autumnal eulogies
so that the loving women will write it in
a secret ink
as an anthem on their porcelain breasts.
Where is the mermaid
who brings me close to the roar that I lost
Translated by Salman Masallza and Vivian Eden
In criticism of the seasons
This bitter passage,
that impoverished scream,
that beginning: the torch,
And that problem:
under the chill of the soul
or when the sun is extinguished,
is the undivided idea extinguished?
The beginning of the voyage:
a sentence on one leg.
the beginning of the season:
Translated by Gabriel Levin
In criticism of pain
Good morning, pain.
Morning; pen; voice;
a few fragments of sleep
on the pillow;
I forgot to gather them
and the necklace of drifting sleep is undone.
opens its mouth wide,
the enchantment of escaping into lucidity
at the moment of pain.
The arm of the river is secretly drowning
and anxiety appears
as I part from it.
The banks of morning
seemed to us the colour of blood;
sleeps above us in pain.
Translated by Gabriel Levin
Salman Masalha was born in 1953 in al-Maghar, Galilee. He has lived in Jerusalem since 1972. He has a PhD in Arabic Literature and for several years taught Arabic language and literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published five volumes of poetry.
Vivian Eden and the poet
The path asks
The old path asked them:
You who bear on your shoulders
sandals cut from palm leaves,
where are you headed?
Do you not see the desert
coming towards you
with all its trappings?
Why, therefore, are you striving
to tread on me barefoot?
It won’t help me, your sweat
dripping a fast pace
towards the fata morgana,
nor will your prayers
help the rainfall.
Your limping steps on
my tracks touch me lightly.
They will not leave traces
on my skin to guide others
to the river. I too, in truth,
have sickened over the years
of your scorn for me. Therefore,
1have made up my mind
to annihilate myself
of my own free will
on my sands. Yet who will
guide me to the way back
if I change my mind?
Before the nightingale goes to sleep
after the efforts of its day
on the verge of collapse
and with its expectations of the morrow
and its sweat
it comes to ask the residents of the neighbourhood
— sweetly singing, or so it seems to me,
about the latest news in the country.
Maybe he seeks good reason for the explosions
in the skies of Jerusalem but he hasn’t found
anyone who understands what is being said.
Not the restless Arab neighbour downstairs
who pays no attention because he strums
within himself seeking a new interpretation
of the oud verse. Not the Jewish neighbour
upstairs, who hasn’t yet reckoned up
her piano keys, listening attentively,
so tirelessly counting them.
And not I — the ignorant.
Empty the sea of its fish.
Bring clouds back to the river.
Wipe from the infant’s lips
the weight of pregnant women.
Branches of grief shade all.
And legends are sorrows
milked from widows’ breasts.
When prophets depart
do not report the loss.
And never never say
hides in the poem.
from Khana Faarigha [Blank Space], 2002 and
Maqamat Sharqiyya [Oriental Scales], 1991
Nathalie Handal has lived in the United States. Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East. She has one collection of poems, The NeverField, a poetry CD entitled Traveling Rooms and is editor of The Poetry of Arab Woman: A Contemporary Anthology. She has published her poems in many magazines and anthologies.
Regrets in Galilee
A night by a fire, a day in Galilee
and all I found was a haunting
in the middle of your speech
a bridge of echo . . .
I borrow the passion of birds for the evening
and trip over my dreams
like a woman wearing another woman’s heels
I think of the seasons that have offended me
and the lovers I never unmasked . . .
I let the running water flow onto my lap
down my legs into my shoes
and wonder what you were going to say
that night when I started travelling
when I stopped you mid-sentence
The lives of rain
The old Chinese man
in the health food shop
at 98th and Broadway tells me
that the rain has many lives.
I don’t understand what he means
but like the way it sounds.
I wonder if he tells everyone the
same thing or if this is something between
us, wonder if he fought any wars, killed
anyone, wonder if he ever fell in love,
lost a house, lost his accent, lost a wife or
a child in the rain, wonder if he calls for
the rain when he stirs his daily soup,
wonder what hides in his silk cloth—
rice, pictures, maybe memories of rain.
Rain he tells me, carries rumors of the dead,
of those with suitcases and epidemics.
Rain carries the memory of droughts,
of houses gone, rain like lovers
comes and goes, like soldiers go
and sometimes return to a life
no longer standing.
The Chinese man waits for me to ask
for more. I stand, outside is the rain
who really knows how many lives to come.
Khaled Abdallah was born in Khan Yunis, Gaza. He has one collection of poems, FM, which won the 2001 AM Qattan Foundation poetry prize.
translated by Khaled Mattawa
The Apache passed over the sea. After it had
shelled the people with gas at Netsarim. My feet
pushed the sea forward as they walked and as the
distances leaked from under them becoming huge
mountains facing the sea. The sun was red, and
silent like a war of chess.
The helicopter appeared on the horizon like a fly
hovering over the death throes of Gaza.
I said “kkkshshshsh”. Nothing flew away. And
the evening news announcer said the helicopter
could hide a star that my grandfather used to
hang like a lightbulb as I held the ladder for him.
A rat skitters toward a cardboard box. The dirty
toddler climbs the ladder holding the washline.
The neighbourhood women chew on a plant that
resembles your inner voice. And I (idiot) hear
only what I wish. My lap is brimful of your
elevated songs. The toddler comes down safely.
And we all sleep. When my brother wakes me I
return from a spot where I was drinking
something with you, something like iced coffee.
There are rocks and moss and water and much air
and wind and snow and violins straining and taut
and books, and day-old food
and a hair clip, and a single hair long and
stretched like hibernation, and that’s why I seem
like a scowling monkey when I wake.
I walk barefoot into my mother’s talk,
the dusty square, the garden chair, the dancer’s
kerchief, the wind,
eyes from windows opposite, a moon dangled
between two palm fronds and another moon
at the window. The dancer has a bird’s fluttering
heart that no chest can contain. A jug sprinkles
water to settle the dust.
The flute’s lip is wet with its player’s saliva. Like
on the throat of a balloon. This tune: your heart’s
demons will keep it
like the colour of your first school uniform. But if
the accordion went mad
the women who believe in luck will say this boy is
They would prepare a necklace for him made of
two threads from the sacks
of relief flour and the bones of extinct animals and
shells and yellow
fangs. I return barefoot to mother’s talk. “Another
moon at the window.”
“Build some corners in your heart, my love, and
hide your mint plants among them.”
The street, crowded with passers-by and empty of
any feelings, is now
splattered like a sycamore, solitary like a date palm
and always welcoming like your mother’s laugh.
Yesterday the boys stopped their ball game
so the girl, who doltishly and sluggishly carries her
dreams, could pass . . .
She is not lazy or a bungler. She’s slow because
there’s a dream in the distance still straggling
And the boys are waiting to resume their ball
Whenever they hooded his eyes in hide-and-seek
he forgot them because they shut him out.
He became a cloud that gathered up its rain.
And on its way to earth took it
and led it to a distant country,
scattering it as snow on the shadow of a woman
waiting for a train.
He thrashes at space like a cat children have
shoved into a plastic bag.
Who will send a hook and pole to fish his soul from
under the water?
He knows this density. If he could cleave it
he would breathe deeply and die.
Translated from the author’s collection FM,
which won the 2001 AM al-Qattan Literature
Competition. Also published in
Akwas magazine, No 3, Autumn 2001
Walid Khazendar was born in Gaza city in 1950. He has a law degree. In October 1997 he was awarded the first Palestine Prize for Poetrv. In 1998-1999 he was Arab Writer in Residence at the NESP, Oxford University. He has published three collections of poetry, and now lives in Cairo.
Instantly, all ends
One sentence to share
same as he is
seems words have escaped him.
You lead him, straight,
cold, to the seats:
they’re the same
everything’s the same
only you, like a photograph,
Only you have not heeded what’s around you
You’ve become more sullen
as you move here and there
glancing at him in confusion
furtively, and as you turn.
They fetch the same pastries
and you wait on him
Once more, he stretches out
his hand, after years
he eats, then smiles
Should you see him to his room
a white rug wounded by a single flower
a window, since then closed,
a scream, still loud, short
All you do is ordained
but don’t let him see the garden bevond his
Take him away from it
in case all ends in an instant and you vanish!
He dreams on.
Youssef Abd al-Aziz
Youssef Abd al-Aziz was born in Beit Inan near Jerusalem in 1956. He graduated from the Arab University of Beirut in 1986, and later taught at UNRWA schools in Jordan. He has published several collections of poetry. He lives in Amman.
A yellow sun
in the mud cup of the house,
Over the pines
a cloud’s fur
Blowing in the wind
the wheatfield flies
to a distant land
Behind the house
my father’s horse neighs
a ray of silver flows
in the brook
My mother by the door
embroiders the sea pattern
on a velvet dress
Some other ember
The thistle has now gone to seed
rising from your hands,
drifting off here and there
The house is not smaller
it’s only the cypress that’s overgrown
the climbing fern, also, rising from your hands
has shot higher and higher
entwining round everything as though round you.
You didn’t look back for a second when you left
Don’t draw back, then,
don’t for an instant try to retrace your steps.
You’ll notice the door at once,
forbidding holding fast its secrets, still
by hurried taps,
with the dried foliage on either side.
Knock on the door when you arrive
not once, twice or three times.
The grandchildren won’t understand
on their own, probably
their story doesn’t include you,
their burning ember is not the one
the grandchildren don’t see
Suspended from the bough
of a lemon tree
my heart startles the stones
of the terrace
and makes them leap
In the flower pot
a twig of lightning
planted two years ago
On the wall a mirror remembers
sometimes its face wrinkles
we hear a muffled cry
Next to the house
there is a well
a fierce night locked inside
we used to open the well
and blackness would erupt
like a volcano
and submerge half the village houses
your hands in their surroundings.
When they open up, take a burning ember
from any stove,
where it lingers in your imagination.
Draw them to you one by one
and apologise for the gifts.
Stay with them
bring them back to their fullness softly,
firmly but warmly
as though your absence was only for an hour.
If you need me
remember me to them, perhaps
that may be of use.
Now, be careful!
If they haven’t opened the door to you yet
or if they did, but slammed it shut
against the hoary stranger claiming to be you
if the door seems more forbidding
in your eyes, then
with the climbing fern darting
its stems at you
—and the cactus, too,
please, do not try to open it with your key.
Translated by Marie-Therese Abdel-Messih
from al-Qassida magazine, No 1, Nicosia, 2000
More poems by Khazendar, Banipal No.6 1999
In this well
we ditched our most beautiful brother:
In the room
flap their wings
a chair jumps by my side
a woman enters the mirror
The house has been drenched
by hysterical rain
and the words of God lit
my dazed lips.
translated by Sharif S Elmusa
Ghazi al-Theeba is a Palestinian poet and journalist. He has three collections of poetry, and is editor of the literary page of al-Watau newspaper.
the wind will shut her charms after passing
around today’s trees
and I will speak words,
words that would sleep with the little birds on the wind
and rest on the day’s temptations
and use as our delight’s first lily dances
the poet becomes sleepy behind the eyes of his poem
but that moment of drowsiness
will knock with words on the door
The rain rapped on the poet’s door
The rain’s first word:
. . . feminine,
a feminine rain
she holds the ocean between her lips
as sailors thirsting for water
feminine . . .
she will gather all lovers around the window of the
and she sleeps
so the world may slumber in her laughter
But the poet has flown
into the sleep of his enchanting poems
Translated by Lael Harrison
with thanks to Bassam Frangieh
Khairi Mansour was born in Deir al-Ghusoon near Tulkarrn in 1945. He studied in Cairo. In 1967 he was deported from the West Bank to Kuwait, later working in Baghdad as an editor of Al-Aqlant literary’ magazine. He has published five poetry collections, three books of literary essays and in 1994 an autobiograpical work Sabi’ al-Asra’a [Child of Secrets]. Today he is a columnist for Arab newspapers in Doha and London, and is cultural editor of Ad-Dastour daily newspaper in Armman, where he lives.
A stranger clapping
He hadn’t shaken anyone’s hand for years
He stood before his mirror
and stretched out his hand
but remained standing within a frame
like a statue
Why does a stranger not rely on himself to shake
as though he were clapping?
Thousands of clocks upon the walls
their hands delayed
by the rust of time
The shelves move slightly
as they move
and at night . . .
they dismount one after the other
and share out the chairs
Some rebellious heroes
hang on to their authors until silence
At times I leaf through some books
such as those that lighten burdens
or make dwelling within a frivolous body
and find that some have been emptied of their
exactly like abandoned sheaths
He rolled his newspaper into a trumpet
and when a place came free beside the window
he turned it into a telescope
and saw a bald tree
and a wig of birds
From what bow did this day spring
a silver arrow
burrowing deep into our waists
so we bend over until sunset
awaiting nightfall . . . from the other side
He was handsome
and his arboreal female was weighed down by braids and nipples
A serpent fell in love with him
and stung him
taking him into the jungle
Touch with the naked
The women selling bread sit on the pavement
when no one is passing
whiling time away by recalling their weddings
and chewing loaves
One girl passes the café
on hundreds of feet . . .
A Lonely Sky
A blue sky
skilfully hides its stars
but quickly draws them — from beneath a baggy
in the face of those who interrupt the day
a wide sky dangling over the edges of the earth
When man dreams of flying
“it rebuffs him like an unwanted guest”
A lonely sky, without friends, because it is
I recited before him
which he thought were one
I had no regrets
I recited before him
not for him!
Fathers and Sons
The stones of the old house
scattered when they pulled it down
but were not lost
There they are beating like dark hearts
supporting the new walls
Perhaps they will overflow with memories
When the house empties or its inhabitants travel
Al-Qassida magazine No 1, Nicosia, 2000
Mourid al-Barghouti was born in 1944 in the village of Deir Ghassaneh near Ramallah, and lived most of his life in exile. He has a BA in English literature from Cairo University. He worked as a teacher in Kuwait and Cairo, in Budapest as PLO representative and in Cairo as a radio journalist with “Palestine Radio”. He has published 13 collections of poetry, and his collected works. He won the AUC 1997 Naguib Mahfouz Literature Prize for his autobiographical novel Ra’aytu Ramallah (I Saw Ramallah), and in 2000 the Palestine Award for Poetry. He lives in Cairo.
Translated by the poet and Radwa Ashour
The three cypress trees
Transparent, crystalline and frail,
like the slumber of woodcutters,
serene, auspicious, portending things to come,
the morning drizzle does not conceal
these three cypresses on the slope.
Their particulars details belie their sameness
their radiance confirms it.
I wouldn’t dare to keep looking at them
there is a beauty that takes away our daring
there are times when courage fades away
The clouds rolling / scudding moving high above
change the form of the cypresses.
The birds flying to wards alternative skies
change the resonance of the cypresses
The tiled line behind them
fixes the greenness of the cypresses
and there are trees whose only fruit is greenness.
Yesterday, in my sudden cheerfulness,
I saw their immortality.
Today, in my sudden sorrow,
I saw the axe.
From The Pomegranate Flowers, 2002
It’s also fine
It’s also fine to die in our beds
on a clean pillow
and among our friends.
It’s fine to die, once,
our hands crossed on our chests
empty and pale
with no scratches, no chains, no banners,
and no petitions.
It’s fine to have an undustful death,
no holes in our shirts,
and no evidence in our ribs.
It’s fine to die
with a white pillow, not the pavement, under our
our hands resting in those of our loved ones
surrounded by desperate doctors and nurses,
with nothing left but a graceful farewell,
paying no attention to history,
leaving this world as it is,
hoping that, someday, someone else
will change it.
From People In Their Nights, 1999
A poet sits in a coffee shop, writing:
the old lady
thinks he is writing a letter to his mother,
the young woman
thinks he is writing a letter to his girlfriend,
thinks he is drawing,
thinks he is considering a deal,
thinks he is writing a postcard,
thinks he is calculating his debts,
the secret policeman
walks slowly, towards him.
from Poems of the Pavement, 1980
With small shovels
and plastic buckets
in their colourful clothes
are building strong sand castles.
They throw balls in a game without rules
they shout, call names, laugh,
get scratched in short inevitable clashes
Complaints are also inevitable:
“Why did you leave me alone?”
“Why don’t you leave me alone?”
They squat on the boards, in a flash,
then stand upright, in a flash,
to make the swing fly higher and higher.
They invent their sudden demands:
a glass of water,
a cry for help, soon forgotten,
a look at the miracle about to take place,
“Watch what I am going to do now!
“Watch me jump!”
In the half circle of benches around the park,
on wooden seats
that have almost lost their cumin-coloured paint
mothers and grandmothers in their drab clothes
turn up their collars
to avoid a gust of cold wind
or with silent fingers
straighten their wrinkled worries.
And from time to time
trying to overcome their boredom
they exchange the latest news
in low voices.
They send their kids a caring smile
an encouraging look
or an instructive gesture.
A big-bellied cat with heavy steps
moves around, as if lost, looking for something.
A string of birds, silent, moves slowly
like a column of prisoners of war.
Dark clouds pile up above the scene
a small sun keeps on trying
A loud weeping
comes from the sand kingdom,
A kid shouts in the face of everyone:
the castle has fallen
From: The Pomegranate Flowers, 2002
I have not seen any horrors,
I have not seen the dragon in the land,
I have not seen the Cyclops on the sea,
nor a witch nor a policeman
at the entrance of mv dav.
Pirates have not overtaken my desires,
thieves have not broken down the door of my life,
my absence has not been long,
it took me but one lifetime.
How come you saw scars
on my face, sorrow’ in my eyes,
and bruises in my mood and my bones?
These are only illusions.
I have not seen any horrors
everything was extremely normal,
do not worry;
your son is still in his grave, murdered,
and he’s fine.
From People In Their Nights, 1999
There are some inventions
that do not exist,
old age is one of them.
Those who go “there”
take childhood with them,
hold her dimpled little fingers
in their hands,
tell her their stories.
They take with them their silly little habits,
their tricks to get around restrictions,
their sly meaningful glances –
the way they blame a friend,
the way they complain,
their impressions of the last conference
or the coming elections.
(I have seen many of them
on their deathbed)
They want us to play with them,
they fight against an enemy of a sort.
they doubt an idea or a person;
their hand, when they hear the name
of a cherished person,
joyfully snatches the telephone
with a lazy cinematic gesture,
draws instructions in the air:
“Say he is asleep.”
They issue their familiar orders,
they steal a cigarette from their visitors
and hide it under the pillow
They discuss with you their future plans,
they misunderstand you
keep arguing until you
are dismissed from the room.
They take with them
the way they pronounce their R’s,
their desire to be admired
their style of interrupting your sentences.
They take with them their slippers,
their loved ones, their razors, their make-up kits,
and all the things they don’t need
on their last journey!
we who love them,
we – who since we were born
have thought life was made up of them
just as it is of water, wind, fire and earth,
we – who, at that moment,
want to accompany them,
just as we once did to the funfair,
we are left behind,
for they – gently, cleverly,
and for reasons only they know,
refuse to take us
From People In Their Nights, 1999
How are you?
Waiting for the school bus,
watching his breath turn into mist near his nose
in the freezing morning,
the schoolboy tries to make a fist
with no success.
On the pillow of regret,
the defeated soldier
lazily tries to get up,
he raises his broken toothbrush
to his teeth.
Early or late,
the stranger awakens in his exile, his homeland.
Their costumes, their car number plates, their
their quarrels, their love, their land and sea
belong to them.
His memory, rats gathering on his doormat
that looks new and warm
in front of his closed door.
On a lonely pillow
the mother throws a quick glance
at the bed of her elder son,
arranged for the final time
and empty, forever.
A voice, from the neighbouring window is heard
– Hello, good morning. How are you?
– Hello, good morning. We are fine,
we are fine!
From The Pomegranate Flowers, 2002
Ghassan Zaqtan was born in 1954 in Beit jala, near Bethlehem. He lived in Amman from 1967 to 1979, where he obtained a teacher’s training degree. He then went to Beirut where he edited the PLO’s Bayader literary magazine. He has published several collections of poetry, a novel and made two documentary films. He is editor-in-chief of al-Shua’ra quarterly, published by the House of Poetry in Ramallah where he lives.
translated by Sarah Maguire
with Kate Daniels
Darkness has a hole,
with space for a hand,
black, with five fingers and an arm
Darkness owns a house,
haunted by the dead,
reburying their secrets in the bricks
Darkness kills the voices
mouthing from the stones,
choking in nettles at the bottom of the well
And a cry,
a harsh yell of protest,
rises from the dark heart of the wood
The days of salt are unbelievable like
dreaming a dream dreamt by somebody else.
And, like actors
dead at the end of an interminable tragedy,
they stir themselves, and start up again,
whenever we remember:
the lost hills
sunk in the torpor of hills;
towering in the west;
hearses that roam through the land
day and night;
the unshakeable faith
of the dead;
hands that loom out of darkness
waving their memories;
that never leads to wisdom;
out of place.
The days of salt are unbelievable –
bad as the sowing of bad seeds
they’re now abandoned,
chucked in the abyss.
And, as we drag ourselves up once again,
(for what choice do we have?)
those days slip down behind us,
forgotten for ever;
like our dark skin,
like our vain attempts to sleep.
We have names, and nicknames,
ancient as eternity,
and our accent betrays us
as strangers here, always.
The days of salt are unbelievable.
But now even they are hardly worth
The flight of birds
leaves the land blank
while the story is blank
and sleep is blank.
Blank silence greets the visitor
like an icon nailed to the door a
dry echo of laughter,
dust stirred up
when the door’s
frozen in winter;
the voices of the departed
flicker then fade
when the door’s
Let’s wait here a while
to dry out our clothes.
I look back to see
is littered with grief,
as useless as these broken plates.
Careful! Beware of the leader
commanding the roof –
sit still quietly,
don’t tum on the lights.
Careful! Beware of windfalls
rotting on the ground.
Your voice in myoid room
cuts through the silence
the silence of dishes,
the silence of lightbulbs,
the silence of leftovers,
the silence of waiting –
all the silences
I’ve been hoarding for years
as I walked by myself
through the garden in summertime,
aching to heal all this absence,
to mend this damned eternity of emptiness!
– with big windows at the front,
a bamboo gate, and a hallway in darkness,
with a lemon tree, in bloom only two days past,
and a spent nargile, empty of water.
When you dream
you see the three of us opening the door –
the image of the garden floats behind me,
mingling with the smell of jasmine.
I will sit here, in my place on the grass,
under the shadows dappling the rug,
with the sharp scent of jasmine
lingering in a dress –
a light summer dress,
an early summer dress,
belonging to a girl
I never loved.
still lurches on since grandfather fled
the boggy fields
still bang our heads on the rocks
from those fields
And the seven dead:
a jet of blood –
through the fields
soaking through dust,
and through pollen
on seven just hyenas –
hordes have followed them,
by faithful ghosts,
the family commandments
like clumsy heirlooms
heavy round their necks,
charm bracelets strung
with the cart, and the family
and the red jet of blood,
while the dynasty
the heirlooms and the ghosts
all tum to dust
from the poet’s selected poems
Tarteeb al-Wasf [Putting Descriptions
in Order], Ramallah, 1998
Michael Smith was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1942. He is a poet. translator, critic and publisher. He has translated the poetry of Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, Miguel Hernández. Gerardo Diego, Pablo Neruda, Quevedo and Góngora amongst many others. In 1967 he established New Writers’ Press which has published more than almost a hundred titles, between books and magazines. In 2001 he received the Medal of the European Academy Poetry for his translations of some of the most important poets of Spain and Latin America. Among his latest work, in three volumes, is the complete poems of the Peruvian poet, César Vallejo, translated with the Peruvian scholar, Valentino Gianuzzi. His translation of Selected Poems of Rosalía de Castro was published in September, 2007), along with the Complete Poems of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. At present he is working on a Selected Poems of Claudio Rodríguez with Luis Ingelmo, and also a Selected Poems of Juan Antonio Villacañas with Beatriz White. He was a member of the Arts Council of Ireland (1984‑1989). He is a member of the Aosdána, the Irish National Academy of Artists. His poetry has been translated into Spanish, French, German and Polish.