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The Passerby Collects the Moonlight

To those strangers, my friends.

The passerby collects the moonlight
to weave more stories for the evening
and heal the darkness
that weighs heavy on the lake.
He comes, stiff hands clinging
to the little warmth in his body.
As for worry, it leaves its taste on his breath:

“You can’t be a noble immigrant
without worries,”
he tells the air that flies around him like an angel.

He fosters some peace of mind
whenever his misgivings betray him,
he invents joy to dispel the gloom
of the dank and lonely days from his soul,
and to disguise the reproachful voice in his heart.

He follows his footsteps’ traces on the paths, afraid to lose his shadow,
and sometimes the sidewalks diverge,
so he wanders without a home...

He has to leave some part of himself on the paths, his scent on the walls,
or his senses somewhere close—
he reminds his soul of this,

because it might forget.

His eyes have to memorize the landmarks here so they can recognize these places when he returns,
and so he won’t look like a stranger

or seem suspect to the travelers at night’s end.

He passes by, bearing his name
and his papers, which crumple
in the hands of inspectors,
leaving behind a moment of horror that he alone remembers whenever his eyes fall on that picture fixed in the corner of the ID card.

The picture no longer resembles him, but it has preserved the scared gaze in his years
and in his coat pocket;

It has left him confused, wandering all over.
He carries a trace of fear to mislead it
in the darkness that’s coated with the sky’s silver, where his feet press down, beating the path.

He hopes the long journey will heal his thoughts of exile And give his years the salve of oblivion.
Oblivion, in turn, bestows its gifts on him,
Making him forget the fear

that lurks beneath his clothes.
This is why he’ll remain
in these substitute countries
while the sting of winter burns his skin.


He’ll forget when he came here.

And if he has to leave,
and if his feet don’t carry him away one day,

then he’ll pardon the places of exile
and forgive them for not severing his fingers,
for not burning his eyes with their snow.
He’ll appreciate the small house that’s hiding
on the frontiers of the last province—
a sanctuary for the trains running late
and for the small hopes
that come back with him each evening.
And the smile of the guardian of the nights
or the words “good night” from the bus driver
will make him more grateful.
And he’ll go to sleep, feeling healed
and reassured
for his humanity, complete, came to bed with him.
But he rubs sleep from his eyes when he remembers that he’ll have to entrust the night with his body without knowing in what land his soul will be born
or which rose will bloom on his grave, which will be visited
by those whom he loved in this life.
and he’ll wonder if this will hurt him,
but still he’ll fall into slumber’s trap,
and the next day he’ll rise, carrying his crutches,

leaving his heavy legs in their place.
He’ll fly, leaning against the wind
like the stork, with legs
that look like small acacia trunks,

and wondering why the details of the city fly past him like a distant dream,
as weightless as kites
that escaped their threads,

free now.
Nothing hurts him,
not even his mother’s neglectfulness—that woman who was broken by misfortune.
He flies,
freeing himself of everything,
even of his wound.

Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
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