Looking through the storage room (dwelling place of things that neither die nor live) for the books I fled the country for, to see just what had enthralled me, I found it: the same old radio, Phillips, with the green eye that would shine through the rare sleepless nights of my father,
the military man from the tank corps.
Silent, tattered, stripped of its esteem as the most important member of the family.
The fine mesh that poured out emotions, intrigues and lies is broken. The strong black leather is cracked. The old stations (London, Washington, Berlin, Moscow, Tirana) that stirred the peoples and turmoils of the East with long tongues, are quiet as gravestones covered in dust.
The needle my father often warned me from moving too fast – for fear of setting it loose from the proper orbit of the universe – is stopped at Radio Damascus, which the family only tuned into during Ramadan to hear the child-voice of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Munjid.
. . . . . . . .
. I didn’t find my secret books. My family no doubt got rid of them immediately after my departure. For what need is there in Al-Mafraq for The German Ideology or What is To Be Done?. But I found my stifled adolescence stuck there, living on rapacious waking dreams. The Babylonian sounds rise, reclaiming a life lived only in songs.
London, Autumn 2000
To my brother Ahmad
When we’d stop at Seven Bridges and look at the gravel floor of the valley with no name (where there is no water, there is no name), we didn’t know those t imes would one day lead me to London Bridge and you to the Brooklyn.
No one who knew Seven Bridges (the miracle of Zarqa suspended in ellipses of dust) had heard of those two bridges or thought there were bridges more awesome than this one with its seven arches that the Ottomans built to lay the Hijaz railroad in the last gasp of their janissary empire.
The fins of winds grind under it
predatory birds make their nests
in its crevices and holes
women place charms for their husbands
between its stones
the night appoints it
exemplary keeper of its own darkness.
Remember, we’d throw a fils coin,
and it would rust
before hitting the ground,
a shirt and the wind tore it in two,
a green branch and it turned to firewood.
But in the far and cold country of England that implored the rain god to raise his palms a little, was a bridge (immortalized by an American-born English poet named Eliot) which joined London’s two muddy riverbanks, was crossed by sleep-walkers to the castle of money, or from which those bent on suicide would threw themselves. On the other shore of the Atlantic (where Bedouin intuition is useless) was a more impressive bridge called the Brooklyn, on which all the tribes of Jordan can cross without a nut coming loose.
Seven Bridges. My father threatened (in your presence perhaps) to throw me off if I didn’t stop smoking. Stealing from neighbouring gardens, chasing girls, getting in the house over the courtyard wall and not through the door. (My heart was falling and not hitting bottom as my father put his broad hand over the nape of my neck and showed me how far down the ground was.) All the bridges I’ve seen in my life have not budged it from my memory.
It wasn’t the height
nor the gravel floor
nor the grave of Umm Youssef Selim
– the first of our dead on the other hill –
but the three Ottoman shellcases
I found with the Jina’ah* gang
that were filled
with gold majeedi coins – according to me
with spoilt gunpowder – according to the police
Twenty years after my mythical flight before eyes trapping blue flies I sat on the edge of Seven Bridges and was afraid to dangle my feet and reveal the distance between my memory and the ground below.
London, Spring, 2001
* Jina’ah is a poor quarter of Zarqa townTranslated by Camilo Gomez-Rivas