by Mahmoud Darwish
New York/ November/ Fifth Avenue /
The sun, a splintered metallic saucer /
I said to myself, a stranger in the shade:
Is this Babylon or Sodom?
There, at the gate of an electrical abyss
The height of the heavens, I met Edward
Thirty years ago.
Time was less defiant than now…..
We both said:
If your past was an experiment
Then let tomorrow have purpose and vision!
Let us go,
Let us approach our tomorrow assured
In the truthfulness of imagination, and the miracle of the grass /
I do not recall that we went to the cinema
In the evening. But I heard ancient Indians calling me:
Trust neither the horse, nor Modernity /
Nay. No victim questions his executioner:
Am I you?
If my sword had been larger than my rose …would you have asked
If I would have acted like you?
A question like this arouses the curiosity of the novelist
In an office of glass overlooking
A bed of lilies in the garden….Where the hand of
Hypothesis is white like the conscience
Of the novelist when he balances the account with
Human instinct …There is no tomorrow in yesterday,
Therefore, let us move forward.
Perhaps progress is the bridge of regress
Towards Barbarism … /
New York. Edward wakes up to
The laziness of the dawn. He plays a tune by Mozart.
He jogs across the University’s tennis court.
He thinks about the intellectual journey across the borders
And above the barricades. He reads the New York Times.
He writes his tense commentary. He curses an orientalist
Who guides the General to the weak spot
In an oriental heart. He bathes.
And with all the elegance of a rooster
He selects his suit. He drinks
His coffee with milk. He shouts at dawn:
Do not tarry!
On the wind he walks. And in the wind
He realizes his identity. The wind has no ceiling.
It has no abode. The wind is a compass
Guiding the stranger northward.
He says: I am from there. I am from here
But neither am I there, nor here.
I have two names. They meet and they depart…..
And two languages, I have forgotten in which I used to dream.
I have English for writing
Its vocabulary is obedient,
Yet, I have another language from the dialogue of the Heavens
With Jerusalem. its cadence is silvery
But it does not obey my imagination.
And your identity? I said.
He said: Self-defense …
Identity is the offspring of birth, but
In the end, it is the creative act of its owner. Nay
It is not a vestige of the past. I am multi-dimensional…
Within me is my rejuvenated exterior. But
I belong to the question of the victim.
Had I not been from there, I would have trained my heart
To grow up there the gazelle of metonymy….
Carry your country wherever you go and be
A narcissist if need be/
- The external world is an exile
So is the internal world
And between them, who are you?
< I do not define myself lest I lose myself. I am what I am.
I am my other in a dualism
Of harmony between words and intimation.
Had I been writing poetry, I would have said:
I am two in one
Like the two wings of a sparrow
If the spring season was delayed
I would be content to
Bring glad tidings!
He loves a homeland, but he deserts it.
[Is the unattainable far away?]
He loves traveling towards anything
In the free-faring among cultures.
Researchers for the human essence may find
Sufficient seats for all…..
Here a periphery advances, or a center retreats.
The East is not exactly the East
Nor the West the West,
Identity is open to pluralism
No fortress and no trenches/
A metaphor was lying on a river’s bank,
Were it not for pollution,
It would have embraced the second bank.
- Have you written a novel?
< I have tried… I attempted to recall my image
In the looking glass of the far away women.
But they penetrated deep into their fortified night.
And they said: Ours is a world independent of the text.
A Man shall not transcribe the woman as a riddle and a dream.
A woman shall not transcribe the man as a symbol and a star.
No two loves are alike.
No two nights are similar. Let us count
The characteristics of men and laugh!
-What did you do?
< I ridiculed my vanity
And I threw away the novel
In the waste basket /
The intellectual suppresses the rendition of the novelist
And the philosopher explains the rose of the singer/
He loves a homeland but he deserts it:
Whatever I am or I may become
I will alone place myself
I shall select my exile. My exile is the background
Of the epic scene; I defend the poets’ need for tomorrow
As well as their need for memories
I fight for trees that the birds wear
As a homeland and an exile,
For a moon befitting a love poem,
I fight for an idea shattered by the fragility of its creators
I fight for a country seized by fables/
- Are you able to return to anything?
< My present hurries dragging my past ….
There is no time on my watch to write lines
In the sand. But I can visit yesterday,
Just like strangers do if they listen
In the sad evening to the pastoral poet:
“A young girl at the fountain, filling her jug
With the tears of the clouds
She cries and laughs at a bee
That stung her heart in the --source of longing-
Is it love that torments the water?
Or an ailment in the mist ….
[Till the end of the song.]
- Therefore, does the malady of nostalgia afflict you?
< Nostalgia for tomorrow, farther, higher
And still farther. My dream leads my steps.
My vision seats my dream on my knees
Like a domesticated cat; he is the imaginary realist
The child of will:
It is in our power to alter the inevitability of the abyss!
- And nostalgia for yesterday?
< An emotion that does not concern the intellectual
Only to the extent of his understanding of the stranger’s yearning
For the tools of absence.
As for me, my nostalgia is a struggle for a present
That holds the ‘morrow from its testicles.
- Didn’t you infiltrate towards yesterday,
When you went to the house, your house
In Jerusalem in the neighborhood of al-Talbiyya ?
< I had prepared myself to lie down
In my mother’s bed, just like a child would do
Fearing his father. I tried to
Relive my birth,
To follow the path of the milky way on the roof of my old house,
I tried to feel the skin of exile,
The smell of summer from
The jasmine in the garden. But the hyena of reality
Banished me from my longing that looked back
Behind me like a thief.
- Were you afraid? What scared you?
< I couldn’t encounter my loss face to face.
I stood at the door like a beggar.
Would I ask permission from strangers?
Sleeping in my own bed….Permission to
Visit with myself for five minutes?
Would I bow respectfully for those who
Dwell in my childhood’s dream?
Would they inquire:
Who is this foreign and curious visitor?
Would I be able to speak about peace and war
Among the victims and their victims,
Without additional words and a parenthetical clause?
Would they say to me: There is no place
For two dreams in one bedchamber?
Not I, nor he
But he is a reader asking what would poetry
Say to us at this catastrophic time?
In your country,
In my name and yours,
In the almond blossom, in the banana skin,
In a child’s milk, in the light and in the shadow,
In the grain of wheat, in the chest of salt /
Skillful snipers who hit their targets with supreme accuracy
This land is smaller than the blood of its people
Standing at the threshold of resurrection
Like sacrificial lambs.
Is this land really blessed or is it baptized with
That neither prayers nor sand can dry up.
There isn’t enough justice in the pages of the Holy Book
For the martyrs to be happy in the freedom of walking over the clouds.
Blood in daylight.
Blood in darkness. Blood in words!
He says: The poem may host loss
Like a ray of light
Shining inside a guitar, or a messiah
On a stallion wounded with a beautiful metaphor,
Aesthetic is only the presence of the real in the form/
In a world without a sky, the earth becomes
An abyss, and the poem a gift of consolation,
And one of the attributes of the wind,
A south wind or a north wind.
Do not describe what the camera sees of your wounds.
Scream so you can hear yourself,
Shout so you realize you are still alive,
Alive, and that life on this earth is still possible.
Invent hope for words,
Create a direction or a mirage that prolongs hope.
Sing, aesthetic is freedom/
I say: Life, only known by its opposite is death … It is not life!
Says he: We shall live, even if life leaves us alone.
We must be the masters of words that will immortalize readers
- According to your unique friend Ristos …….
He said: If I die before you,
I urge you to cling to the impossible!
I asked: Is the impossible distant?
He replied: A generation away.
Said I: What if I die before you?
He said: I shall console the mountains of Galilee
I shall also write: Aesthetic is nothing but reaching the appropriate.
Now, do not forget:
If I die before you, I urge you to cling to the impossible!
When I visited him in the new Sodom,
In the year two thousand and two,
He was resisting the war of Sodom against the Babylonians…..
And cancer. He was like the last epic hero
Defending the right of Troy in sharing the novel/
An eagle bidding farewell to his high, high summit,
Residing over Olympus
And above mountain peaks
I bid the poetry of pain farewell.
[My Translation of Mahmud Darwish’s poem, “Antithesis,” Dedicated to the memory of Edward Said, in theJournal of Arabic Literature, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1. 2005. Brill Publishers, Leiden, the Netherlands.]