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.
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.
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
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
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,
Nothing hurts him,
not even his mother’s neglectfulness—that woman who was broken by misfortune.
freeing himself of everything,
even of his wound.
The Shadow of the Night
To my friend Hassan Sharif, to his madness and breakdowns.
Fear crept into my corner
To share the evening cup with me,
Just as I was getting used to these naked days, to living With neither coat nor friends.
I might have managed to escape from it,
But our eyes met in a flash of hope, And fate built a bridge for us.
Together, we walked through the nights Leaning on a single cane.
The years piled up on our table
And we forgot that we were enemies, Just as friends forget they are friends. Fear became my shirt,
I opened my arms to it,
But instead of embracing me
It slipped into my heart.
We became each other’s nocturnal companion, Surviving on air and sorrow,
And now we have to pack our bags together And stand on the hill of angels
So they might choose us
To appear before God.
All these eras
For the sake of this fear that rooted in my heart, And still it’s embracing me
Like a mother who cannot cope with the loss.
He Said He Was Going
To M. A., who decided to go in the dark of night.
He said he was going home,
and he started walking without looking at anything or turning back.
He walked until he could no longer stop
or say goodbye.
In his corner
He closed his eyes to search
Within a well in his mind
For the shadows he’d left in their place
He heard the wind screaming like an enchantress In the water of his body.
The distance spoke to his heart in voices
He wanted to silence.
He shut his eyes to make them
He won’t be able to see them
Or know where they come from,
And he won’t be able
To stretch his hand to them
To make them be quiet,
Or make them go...
So he opened his eyes And left them there
To wander aimlessly Like kites
In a distant sky.
He said he was going to the river.
He started walking around the plains And the trees walked behind him, until They burned in his love.
The ashes flew through the air,
So the birds came
And found no end of flesh:
Until they could sing no longer.
And forgot how they used to fly.
Touched by the Wind
To my friend Ahmed Rashid Thani, who left early.
It came early to take him to the lake. It stopped at the door of his home,
Then followed him to the bars,
To the alleys melting like raindrops, To his mother’s grave.
He called him by his name:
Drunk, on the verge of breaking wind, He walked, loud yet obedient,
And fell like an old branch of a palm. His shadow was puzzled, afraid— Would it stay with him?
They said he went to death of his own free will.
The above poems are translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
The Snow of Mounts
I sit in the very same place
my heart ablaze with yearning
my eyes captivated by the long hallway.
In the very same place
I memorize the faces of passers-by
then let them slip away
like sand through my fingers.
Suddenly his face is thrust among them
and my thoughts stutter.
Do I have to keep him in the cell
or must I open the door for him
When I say: I will be careful
my body temperature rises
and the air in the room chills.
As for him, he disappears
I think I will be unable
to forget him
yet I go into the alleys like a light feather
with my heart radiant as the snow
of the mounts.
Not Even the Light from the Window
In my hand, there is a fistful of our garden’s flowers,
Jasmine and Narcissus bloom
in the night dew.
Near the bed, there is another bouquet
I put there days ago
inquisitive soul pays it any attention,
not even the light from the window
that claims to have affection for me.
The above two poems are translated by Issa J. Boullata
My mother lets her prayers escape
to every other morning,
to every passer-by who carries our news,
as she exchanges blames with God
for He has not yet granted her wishes.
Fever entraps her
And gardens she thinks will cure her pains
But she falls once more
Colliding with her blood
As if it were a life jacket.
I look at the range
The walls are mighty
And so are the sorrows.
I will leave everything in place
Even the dust accumulated over the trees
So that they too will know
How our bodies ache when no one touches them.
The Soul Shivers
Scattered by the wind…
Scattered by the wind…
I will be happy
I told my heart that made me dizzy with its sorrows
And I lit a candle for the angels
And another one
For the love that enlightened me.
Good for Them
And the bow of the rain
To those who wound
And profess innocence
When your eyes look into theirs.
It was just yesterday when we met,
We inscribed our signatures
On the long roads.
It was just yesterday when we faked
The first reason to be together,
And we spent the first day
adorning our tent.
It was just yesterday,
I swear it was just yesterday.
Then, what are all those years
That every time we counted
another is added?
Every time I raise my head to the sky
The pains swell
And the chambers of my heart
are filled with tears.
The chambers become narrower
The maze becomes wider.
The knotted cloud behind the fence,
The white cloud,
Lighted my long night with its bitter whiteness
It was following my heart
While it was searching for its torch
In the darkness.
Loneliness crawls like
a serpent over the walls
It avoids the light of the window
To pluck out the tranquility of the night.
Let sorrow fades away
Just for today
Just for now.
After all these seasons,
And year cast after year,
Here I am waiting for you, grandmother,
Waiting for that punishment
that is stronger than the storm’s sting.
There I take off my face as I fervently turn to the nook,
My head between my blackened hands
And my clothes shabby and cold.
She will come now
She will come in a while,
But the moon …
The rotten fruit
hanging in the night
dimmed in my coat.
Here I am in the ancient portico
My hands are clasped
My feet brush the emptiness
A destitute student
Who becomes old every time she treads on the doorstep.
After all these seasons
And year cast after year,
Where can I get the chain of stories that spill at the hour of your happiness?
How would the morning whiff
the smell of hot bread?
How would it bear the countless lists of advice that are heavier than my school bag?
O kind-hearted grandmother
The heart is a splinter under the shirt
But how a splinter
when it has yet to reach its seventh year?
Lies are the wisdom of the young
What need I to tell you
So you would realize what a child I was?
Kingdom of Doubts
Behind this evening
Where the star is perplexed as to
from which lantern it should look
and from which door it should pass,
behind this evening
I glimpsed dreams with sunken eyes
Waving with tired arms
Before placing their dress on their shoulders
And disappearing in the dark
Like a bird
Frightened by the wind
It is the scream
Coming closer to me and without knowing for whom
It goes back
I let off my petrified butterfly
And the swish of my dress follows me
that I did not betray the companionship
Will I return?
Is this a vision or a trap
The directions are woven by flashes
A notch in the night
Jumps like a wick and a doze
And the dress behind me is like a blade that scrapes the paths
Shall I return?
Rub your eye sockets with this bread
Who is it?
Not before the water writhes
And the moon becomes dry
Who is it?
You will only hear the voice ripped like a knife
Tired by time
The birds are on their branches
Dance frozen in circling the dead trees.
so I would warm the cold in you
The screams vibrate in my senses
and the swish of the dress recedes,
my body is a stick that bounces between two unknown palms
My eyes are white clouds..
Who is it?
I hear the paths strike my ears
I loosen my fingers from my face
There a pigeon rolls its egg
On top of my chest
And my tongue circles like an ancient pendulum
Behind that evening …
I tied my bundle and went out
In the companionship of the storm
the houses sunk in front of my eyes, the edges of the earth trembled…
I became like an old tortoise on the face of a rough planet nothing
Between me and the sky except a strong wind and clouds decorated with diamonds.
Suddenly one of the clouds turned into a woman who proceeded towards me
And I ran in search of shelter, I was struck by what resembles love, but she was
following me from castle to castle, from room to room,
I screamed out don’t come any closer your electricity will strike me,
I left her in one of the rooms sitting like a teacher from the strange
Ages sipping lessons and crying, sipping lessons and the class
Is empty except for benches while I am ill fortuned outside,
I climb one stair and descend from another in search of a cave.
Translated by Omnia Amin