poems after Beirut
III. We Travel like Other People
We travel like other people but return to nothing. Traveling was
the cloud's way.
We buried our loved ones in the clouds' darkness, among the trunks
We said to our wives: Bear children from us for hundreds of years,
so that we may complete this departure
Toward a single hour of homeland, one span of the impossible.
We travel in psalm wagons, rest in the tent of prophets, we emerge
from gypsies' words.
We measure space by the hoopoe's beak, or sing to repel from us the
dis¬tances, wash out the moon's light.
Your road is long: dream of seven women, so that you can carry this
long road across your shoulders.
Shake the palm trees, to know their names, to know which mother
will give birth to the child of Galilee.
We have a country full of words. Speak, speak so that I can rest my
road against a rock.
We have a country full of words. Speak, speak so that we may know
what is the limit of this traveling.
Translated by Lena Jayyusi and Christopher Middleton; taken from
Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology, 1987. Edited by Salma Khadra
Jayyusi. Reprinted by per¬mission of the
Averting his eyes from the moon,
He knelt to scoop up dirt,
Then prayed for a sky that sent no rain
And forbade me to leave.
Lightning kindled the valleys
Where in days of old
My father reared stones and created trees.
His skin emitted moisture;
His hands carved leaves of stone.
Then the horizon hummed a song:
Odysseus was a valiant knight.
He had plenty of bread and wine,
Blankets and horses and shoes…
One day my father prayed on a rock
Avert your eyes from the moon.
Beware of sailing and the sea.
When the gods flogged their slaves,
I cried: Let us all be unbelievers.
Lowering his head, my father said:
Job used to thank
The maker of worms and clouds.
The wound was meant for me,
Not for a corpse or an idol.
Forget both wound and pain
And help me repent...
A star splashed off the horizon,
And my shirt separated fire from wind.
My eyes beheld
Drawings in the dust.
My father once said:
He who has no homeland,
Has no sepulcher on this earth,
And forbade me to leave.
Taken from Splinters of Bone, 1974; translated by B.M.
Naomi Shihab Nye
My Father and the Fig Tree
For other fruits my father was indifferent.
He'd point at the cherry trees and say,
"See those? I wish they were figs."
In the evenings he sat by my bed
weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.
They always involved a fig tree.
Even when it didn't fit, he'd stick it in.
Once Joha was walking down the road and he saw a fig tree.
Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.
Or, later when they caught and arrested him,
his pockets were full of figs.
At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.
"That's not what I'm talking about!" he said,
''I'm talking about a fig straight from the earth -
gift of Allah! - on a branch so heavy it touches the ground.
I'm talking about picking the largest fattest sweetest fig
in the whole world and putting it in my mouth."
(Here he'd stop and close his eyes.)
Years passed, we lived in many houses, none had fig trees.
We' had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.
"Plant one!" my mother said, but my father never did.
He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,
let the okra get too big.
"What a dreamer he is. Look how many things he starts
and doesn't finish."
The last time he moved, I got a phone call.
My father, in Arabic, chanting a song I'd never heard.
"What's that?" I said.
"Wait till you see!"
He took me out back to the new yard.
There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,
a tree with the largest, fattest, sweetest figs in the world.
"It's a fig tree song!" he said,
plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,
of a world that was always his own.
From An Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature, edited by Salma
Khadra Jayyasi. Reprinted by permission of the editor.
I was a vineyard watchman
and descended at the end of the vintage from the hut
from the vineyard. And all the watchmen with the bundle
and with the raiment descended from the hut from the
I see a man here
and his bundle come to a bench
on the avenue. Sleeps his night
and goes and to the avenue he returns.
Until autumn comes. Coat
he wore shoe
has no place
to lie on a bench. The shoes are open on the side
where he lies
on boards four
to breathe deep.
To lie on a bench
on the purity of the boards
like coil of the bared nest
at the side of the tree.
Two steps from here lies the sea smooth on the date 8
And on the horizon around nations and states and clouds
and the two shoes open.
Translated from Hebrew by Harold Schimmel; taken from The
Syrian-African Rift. The Jewish Poetry Series, 1980.
They Are Freezing in the North
He's getting up, he's walking, he's standing, he's dead Someone
He sent a long tongue from the world of truth
Agile as a gymnast
Frightening as a ghost
Most of this
I didn't know I didn't see.
Here now a very cold winter
Not for me, for someone else.
Children are freezing in the North right now,
Who did not shunt him into a pit
Who did not shoot him in the front and back.
He is being tortured in a different way.
It's so cold in the
I want to tell him all this.
He was a good man
Before he died, strangely, sort of.
If the land had been his
He would have waved an old-fashioned sword,
He would maybe have pressed his hand to his heart
To be extra sure.
He would not have let them start.
What he was and who he was, you could say
Father and master, in a certain way.
He's getting up, he's standing, he's falling and dying
Falling slowly he's choosing to fall apart,
Telling jokes escorting the queen
At a feast for the righteous at Sabbath's close. Beyond this
What do I need them all for,
Think about them all for,
Remember them all for,
Children are freezing
Slashed by slanting rain.
Mothers are burning their tents
To make a nice winter's blaze
He's getting up, he's standing, he's dead, he's free.
Is on my head, on me.
Translated from the Hebrew by Tudor Parfitt; taken from poems
from the Lebanon War, 1982. London Magazine, August/September