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This poem is taken from PN Review 174, Volume 33 Number 4, March - April 2007.

Three Poems (translated by Fady Joudah) Mahmoud Darwish


I see what I want of the field... I see
braids of wheat combed by the wind, and I close my eyes:
this mirage leads to the nahawand
and this serenity leads to lapis

I see what I want of the sea... I see
the rise of seagulls at sunset, and I close my eyes:
this loss leads to an Andalus
and this sail is the pigeons' prayer for me...

I see what I want of the night... I see
the end of this long corridor by some city's gates.
I'll toss my notebook on the sidewalk of cafés, and seat this absence
on a chair aboard one of the ships

I see what I want of the soul: the face of stone
as it is scratched by lightning. Green is the land... green, the land of my soul.
Wasn't I a child once playing by the edge of the well?
I am still playing... this vastness is my meadow, and the stones my wind

I see what I want of peace... I see
a gazelle, grass, and a rivulet... I close my eyes:
This gazelle sleeps on my arms
and its hunter sleeps near his children in a faraway place

I see what I want of war. I see
our ancestors' limbs squeeze the springs green in a stone,
and our fathers inherit the water but bequeath nothing, and I close my eyes:
The country within my hands is of my hands

I see what I want of prison: a flower's days
passed through here to guide two strangers within me
to a seat in the garden, and I close my eyes:
Spacious is the land, beautiful through a needle's eye

I see what I want of lightning... I see
the vegetation of the fields crumble the shackles, O joy!
Joy for the white almond song descending on the smoke of villages
like doves... What we feed our children we share with the doves

I see what I want of love... I see
horses making the meadow dance, fifty guitars sighing, and a swarm
of bees suckling the wild berries, and I close my eyes
until I see our shadow behind this dispossessed place

I see what I want of death: I love, and my chest splits
for a horse of Eros leaping out of it white, running over clouds
and flying on endless vapour, circling the eternal blue.
So do not stop me from dying, do not bring me back to a star of dust

I see what I want of blood: I have seen the murdered
address the murderer who bullet-lit his heart: from now on
you can remember only me. I, too, murdered you idly, and from now on
you can remember only me... and you won't bear the roses of spring

I see what I want of the theatre of the absurd: beasts,
court judges, the emperor's hat, the masks of the era,
the colour of the ancient sky, the palace dancer, the mayhem of armies.
Then I forget them all and remember only the victim behind the curtain

I see what I want of poetry: in ancient times, we used to procession
martyred poets in sweet basil and then return to their poetry safely...
But in this age of humming, movies and magazines, we heap the sand on their poems
and laugh. And when we return we find them standing at our doorsteps...

I see what I want of dawn in the dawn... I see
nations looking for their bread among other nations' bread.
It is bread that ravels us from the silk of sleepiness, and from the cotton of our dreams.
So is it from a grain of wheat that the dawn of life bursts... and also the dawn of war?

I see what I want of people: their desire to long
to anything, their tardiness in getting to work,
and their hurry to return to their folk...
and their need to say: Good Morning...

: a Middle Eastern musical scale.

Truce with the Mongols by the Holm Oak Forest

Some creatures of holm oak have been standing for long there on the hill... perhaps
the grass will rise from our bread toward them if we leave the place, and perhaps
the heavenly lapis will descend from them toward the shadow over the citadels.
But who will fill up our ceramics after us? Who will alter our enemies when they know
we are climbing the hill to praise god...
                                                                                             in creatures of holm oak?

Everything points to the absurdity of the wind, yet we don't rise in vain.
Maybe this morning is not as heavy upon us as yesterday, we have
prolonged our stay before the sky and worshipped only what we have lost
of our worship. Maybe the earth is more spacious than its description. Maybe
this road is a way in with the wind...
                                                                                             to the forest of holm oak

The victims march on either side, say some final words then fall into
one world. Yet the eagle and the holm oak will conquer them. There must be
a truce, then, for the anemones in the plains to conceal the dead, and for us to
exchange some curses before we reach the hill. There must be
a human fatigue that changes those horses...
                                                                                             into creatures of holm oak

In the prairie, echo is one: an echo. And the sky on a stone
is an estrangement the birds hang up on this endless space, then fly...
And during the long wars, echo is one: a mother, a father, and a son
believed the horses behind the lakes will return tassled with their final wish.
They brewed some coffee for their dreams to ward off sleep...
                                                                                             amid the ghosts of holm oak

Each war teaches us to love nature more: after the siege
we care more for the irises, we pick tenderness from the almond trees
in March. We plant gardenia in marble, and water our neighbours' plants
when they're out to hunt the gazelles. When will war set down its load
so we can loosen the waists of the women on the hill free...
                                                                                             of the bind of symbols in holm oak?

If only our enemies would take our seats in myth, they'd learn
how much we love the pavement they detest... if they would take
the copper and lightning that are ours... we would take their silken boredom.
If only our enemies would read our letters twice or three times... and apologise
to the butterfly for their game of fire...
                                                                                             in the forest of holm oak

We have often desired peace for our lord in the heights... to our lord in the books.
We have often desired peace for the wool weaver... for the child by the cavern
and for the lovers of life... for our enemies' children in their shelters... for the Mongols
when they would retire into nights that are filled with their wives, when they would
leave the buds of our flowers... and leave us
                                                                                             and the leaves of holm oak

Wars teach us to taste the air and praise the water. How many
nights must we rejoice with chestnuts and dried chickpeas in our pockets?
Or shall we forget our talent in absorbing drizzle and ask: Were
those who died capable of not dying, capable of beginning their narrative here?
Perhaps... perhaps we are able to praise wine and raise a glass
                                                                                             to the widow of holm oak

Each heart that doesn't respond to the nye here falls into
the spider trap. Be patient, be patient and you will hear the echo's reverberation
over the enemy's horses, because the Mongols love our wine
and want to wear the skin of our wives at night, they want to take
the poets of the tribe prisoners
                                                                                             and cut down the holm oak

The Mongols want us to be as they want us to be,
a fistful of dust blowing to China or Persia, and they want us
to love all their songs so that the peace they want can take hold...
We will memorise their parables... we will forgive their deeds when they go
along with this evening to the wind of their fathers
                                                                                             past the song of holm oak

They did not come to win. The legend is not their legend. They descend
from the departure of horses to Asia's ailing west, and they don't know
that we would resist Ghazan-Arghun for a thousand years.
The legend is not his. He will soon enter
the religion of his murdered to learn the speech of Quraish...
                                                                                             and the miracle of holm oak

Echo is one in the nights. And at night's crest we tally
the stars on our lord's chest, count the ages of our children, older by the year,
and the family goats beneath the clouds, and the Mongol dead, and our dead.
Echo is one in the nights: we will return one day, there must be
a Persian poet for this longing...
                                                                                             to the language of holm oak

Wars teach us to love detail: the shape of our door keys,
how to comb our wheat with eyelashes and walk lightly upon our land,
how to cherish the hours before sunset over the zanzalakht...
And wars teach us to see god's image in everything, and to bear
the burden of myths and take the beast out
                                                                                             of the story of holm oak

We will have a hearty laugh with the worms in our bread, and with the worms
in the waters of war. We will hang up our black flags, if we win, on the laundry line
then knit them into socks... and as for song, it must be raised
in the funerals of our immortal heroes... and as for women slaves
of war, they must be freed, and there must be a rain
                                                                                             over the memory of holm oak

Beyond this evening we see what remains of the night. Soon
the free moon will drink the warrior's tea beneath the trees.
One moon for all, for both sides of the trench, for us and them.
But do they have behind these mountains clay houses, tea, and a nye?
Do they have basil, like ours, to call back those who are heading toward death...
                                                                                             in the forest of holm oak?

... At last, we have climbed the hill. Here we are now rising
above the trunks of the story... new grass sprouts over our blood and theirs.
We will load our rifles with sweet basil and collar the necks of the doves
with medals for those who have returned... so far
we have found no one to accept peace... we are not who we are
nor are the others themselves. The rifles are broken... and the doves fly far too far.
We found no one here...
We found no one...
We didn't find the forest of holm oak!

: reed flute. Ghaza-Arghun : A Mongol leader who converted to Islam in Persia.
Quraish : the tribe from which Muhammad came, and whose dialect is that of the Quran.
Zanzalakht : An abundant tree in the Galilee.

A Music Sentence

A poet now, instead of me,
writes a poem
on the willow of the distant wind
so why does the rose in the wall
wear new petals?

A boy now, instead of us,
sets a dove to flight
high toward the ceiling of clouds
so why does the forest shed all
this snow around the smile?

A bird now, instead of us,
carries a letter
from the land of the gazelle to the blue
so why does the hunter enter the scene
and fling his arrow?

A man now, instead of us,
washes the moon
and walks over the crystal of the river
so why does colour fall on the earth
and why are we naked like trees?

A lover now, instead of me,
sweeps his love
into the mire of bottomless springs
so why does the cypress stand here
like a watchman at the garden gate?

A horseman now, instead of me,
stops his horse
and dozes under the shadow of a holm oak
so why do the dead flock
to us out of wall and closet?

This poem is taken from PN Review 174, Volume 33 Number 4, March - April 2007.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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