Selected Poems

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.

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.

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
Since yesterday,
Like yesterday.
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
Be quiet.
This time
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:
They ate
Until they could sing no longer.
They ate
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:
Ahmed...
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

to leave?

 

When I say: I will be careful

my body temperature rises

and the air in the room chills.

As for him, he disappears

between fever

and apprehension.

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

and no

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

Her Prayers

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.

Port

 

Fever entraps her

To sanatoriums

And gardens she thinks will cure her pains

But she falls once more

Colliding with her blood

As if it were a life jacket.

 

The Horizon

 

I look at the range

The walls are mighty

And so are the sorrows.

 

Everything

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…

Scattered…

That’s how

She saw

Her death.

 

Gratitude

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

 

A toast

And the bow of the rain

To those who wound

And profess innocence

When your eyes look into theirs.

 

Yesterday

 

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?

 

No Use

Every time I raise my head to the sky

The pains swell

And the chambers of my heart

are filled with tears.

 

Passages

Every night

The chambers become narrower

Every night

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

And prepared

To pluck out the tranquility of the night.

***

Let sorrow fades away

Just for today

Just for now.

***

 

Dark Marble

 

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.

O grandmother

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

OOOOOOOOOOh

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

assured

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?

Here

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.

Come

so I would warm the cold in you

No…No

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 …

Correction:

At dawn

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