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This poem is taken from PN Review 184, Volume 35 Number 2, November - December 2008.

The Dice Player (translated by Fady Joudah) Mahmoud Darwish

In June 2008 Mahmoud Darwish gave what would be his last public reading in the Arab world, in Ramallah's Summer Cultural Festival. The event was aired on Jazeera TV in its entirety, where he read The Dice Player . I had become aware of Darwish's deteriorating health when we talked previously on the phone. I could hear in his voice his amazing prescience that this time he was walking towards death, in full dignity, not without a hope for life through a surgery against the odds. The poem's effect was more immense on those of us who knew the circumstances surrounding it. He was writing his own biography in a final verse. A tender, shy man, he wanted to beat his elegists to the punch, so to speak. Shortly thereafter we talked on the phone, and about the poem, its amazing departure from his masterpiece, his 'muallaqah', the Mural he published in 2000, after having had escaped death for the second time in his life. And he asked me to translate The Dice Player , a request he repeated when I met him in Houston five days before his passing. In this poem Darwish, who believed in continual aesthetic rebirth, employs a quieter lyric and more conversational tone than he has been developing since 2002 with State of Siege and Don't Apologise for What You've Done : a rebirth that exhibits his mastery and how he always coaxed his readers beyond a fixed reading of his work, he who was and has been a timeless giant in world literature, who left us too soon.

Who am I to say to you
what I say to you?
when I'm not a stone burnished by water
to become a face
or a reed punctured by wind
to become a flute...

I'm a dice player
I win some and lose some
just like you or a little less...
born by the water well
and three lonely trees like nuns,
without parade or midwife,
I was given my name by chance
belonged to a family by chance
and inherited its traits, features and illnesses:

First, arterial disease and high blood pressure
Second, shyness when addressing my parents
and the tree - my grandmother

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