top of page

By the River Spree

A temporary exile and a wall for weeping

In Berlin, I exhaust the roads Near the taverns,
Letting my steps wander Wherever they like,

And I give thanks to the air
That creeps into my coat
To say good evening to my soul.

In Berlin the snow
Cruelly stings my palms
And makes my eyes water,
But at least its flakes heal the scars on my face Whenever they melt there.

What wretched paradox is this
For one tear to cure another
That dried up
Like an ancient engraving on a broken vessel?
I roam through the alleys, obeying
The map’s suggestions,
And to ease my heart a bit.
The distances are strewn all around,
And neighborhoods emerge elegantly from the gloom Within a single field of vision.
The lights jump and dance and spin,
Bringing joy to the shoppers,

Yet hiding their boredom like circus performers, Waiting for night to pass
To wash the makeup off their faces
In the waters of the river.

But right now, they’re content to spell their shadows On the water’s dark blue surface
Without disturbing its peace.
Peace will prevail on this side of the river,

Where the trees have been scattered along the banks For centuries, like stately grandmothers.

One woman is taken by all this
as she wanders through the crowd,

sunk in a deep silence,
or as she winds around the buildings, listening
to the fleeting whispers in all these languages whose origins she doesn’t know,
looking for something
to fill the cup of her loneliness.
She could be me,
she could be someone like me,
or perhaps a twin of mine from a time long forgotten. We’ll be more than one woman,
but we’ll share a single illusion
and a story on repeat
that we drag behind us
like a fate plunged into eternity.

I pass through my time in Berlin:
the Wall’s in another neighborhood,
but you won’t find it, as they say.

Instead, you’ll find a grave
whose tombstone was destroyed,
though some fragments remain, stained with tasteless colors.
And you’ll find a dismembered body,
an ugly ghoul, while the angry sons of the neighborhood Increasingly distort it
not for the sake of something else
but in order to find something other than the ancient guards that they can kill.

Don’t you want to buy something, my lady?
Don’t you want a memory of the Wall?
I stop at the stalls to buy
Some gifts and souvenirs:
Gloves made of Kashmiri wool for my dry hands,
and postcards stamped with pieces of colored cement,
and small stones—
green and orange and red - on magnetic bases
to decorate my fridge and the fridges of friends.

I miss my small room that overlooks
the school playground near Alexanderplatz,
where you can hear the cries of young children whenever the gates are opened
to let them jump outside,

like fish freed from the nets—
their voices echo between the walls
to cheer up the orphanage of my nights
even after the children have gone.

Evening falls
and the lights go out.
The silence pours out, deeper and deeper,
and the darkness pours out lightly on the night, lit up by the whiteness of the snow
and the distant lights of Berlin.

Wall, I carried you back home—
What an obedient spirit you have,
We were able to fold you up and conceal you,
To take you to our countries
Without the soldiers stopping us.

Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
bottom of page