Liana Badr
Liana Badr

A selection from
Banipal 74  (Summer 2022)

Liana Badr



A poem



Words on the Run

from the Thrall of the Night


She was a poet and let me in on the secret of secrets

In the garden she lifted her white blouse to show me the little microphone strapped to her body with a thin piece of tape.

“Ah! English Sarah with the short hair! I couldn’t believe it. The poem! And a microphone?”

I said, as we sat at the entrance to my Jericho house.

She answered like an elder sister: “All it takes is a little button close to the body to carry the words, to hell or to the light of day.”

Is there anyone more honest than my visitor in the thin blouse?

She told me she had a little piece of paper, and on it she wrote down

the secrets she heard for the person who arranged her trip to visit us.

She was saying this because deceit is inimical to friendship

and divulging the truth is better for everyone.


Under a palm tree planted near the door to my childhood home

I showed her memories that hung down like bunches of grapes near the pine tree my mother had planted

next to the mandarin trees

on the edge of the slope that runs down to the hollow

when the earthquake planted Jericho and gave it lush gardens,

just as my mother planted a tropical tree she called cacao half a century ago

and forgot to water a bougainvillea that the heat had brought down onto the walls.


I showed her the picture of my dreams, which protected the house from falling down,

maybe we went back in time, for me to run freely there again,

my sister with her short wet hair standing in the middle of the picture.


How much trouble we take to show our true selves

and our overwhelming desire for friends that we love,

without fear of being embarrassed,

even if there are wars all around us, above, behind and in front.


Like me! When, after many evasions, I declare I’m a poet,

hiding all the time I have stupidly wasted in life,

for fear of a time that comes like a flood, surging at every moment,

without waiting for anyone.


Like me when I believe dreams,

and think they will bring me dolls made of sugar

and promises in pastel colours.


Like me, when

I shed torrents of tears in the night, alone,

because I long for a distant friend


and for my grandmother’s long Hebron-style dress

in sheer cotton, printed with violets and henna flowers.


Like me when I find a soulmate that jokes around with me

and casts a spell to save me from the blues.

And like me,

when I’m sad about the planes that fly so fast

when they take people far away.

And time is short, there’s not even time for a cup of coffee,

and I’m the one that doesn’t want to believe the little tricks that life plays.


Like me

when I daren’t reveal myself

and I’m obliged to smile in ways that run counter to the way I feel

especially when I can’t bear those who pose on balconies,

in front of crowds assigned to applaud.


And like me

when I suppress my passion for chasing down books like a hungry cat

pouncing on the leftovers in tins of sardines,

forsaking the velvet cushions at home.


I was born on the banks of water channels that have flowed

since the time of the Romans,

but the newcomers

have dammed them with reinforced concrete

for stupid reasons, and for their development projects.


It exhausts me to show affection to those who steal minutes and hours

on the pretext of friendship.

and those who cite hard times as an excuse for avoiding the word love

when it’s disappeared from their lives for ever.

“It’s love of survival!” they say.

So what is this survival, pulled out like a thread from a dress the weavers haven’t mended for ages?


It’s torment when I hold my tongue with the woman next door

when she beats the local kids who pick the almonds from her orchard,

and when I hide my papers and notebooks

so that no one can see them.

Am I a poet and I don’t know it?

It’s me who’s preserved a childish laugh

despite all the horrors I’ve seen.

Do I have a secret button under my clothes

like that foreign woman who announced that she loves the truth like me?

A poet!

Or that I’m like her!


In fact it’s more difficult where I am.

Like someone outrageous who overhears words and hides them in their clothes

and like someone who hides a smile for which the time has come,

mocking the half-dead

who rule through the roles and offices they hold.


Like those who possess the words and aren’t afraid

that the smell of the pine trees might give them away,

since it lies under their layers of skin.


Like those who steal from the trees in our orchard at night

ignoring the fact that we haven’t

yet moved out of our old, delapidated house

with its peeling paint.


There were two houses:

a mudbrick house in Jericho

and another long abandoned to its fate.

So now we ourselves are our houses, whose inhabitants left them in the wake of a global war.


I still don’t understand why the poet

told me about her secret microphone,

stuffed and taped under her blouse.

Was it to tell me that the palm trees have eyes

and that the walls have ears,

and that when women poets stick together

they can shake mountains?


Sarah Maguire, Lisa Suhair Majaj, Naomi Shihab Nye, Fadwa Tuqan, Persis Karim, Rasha al-Suriya and Huda al-Faraouni

and Maryna Ajaja as well


They told me that the line of sadness is long, like a flock of pelicans that leaves for the north one spring morning.

Flying in search of the Pole Star, to return to their original home

North. South.

South. North.


For some reason the words they write get under my skin,

written in ink of red pomegranate!


Is it because the wounds in the heart are the same,

like a love whose waves break

on the thresholds of abandonment and long separation.


The poet Carol Ann Duffy once said that

the only thing you can’t buy

is going back in time.


The boys who picked bundles of flowers

on the river banks

and ran around in open meadows.


The girls who made models of clay and wood,

to look like houses of straw and stone.

The women who sang with the Djourda group on the peaks of the Atlas

and sailed to sea in ships

in search of moon visitors.


Coming with the waves of light and wind

bearing the quill and the pen.


All the them, including me, say:

“Why were you the poet who didn’t know she was a poet?”


I pull a woollen thread that that’s come loose from my clothes, and the words, right and wrong, fall on the floor.

I put my hand in my pocket and keep on pulling. My fingers run into forgotten lines of poetry.

I stumble across them . . . the words around me, above me and next to my bed, and on the bathroom shelf next to the toothpaste. I find they are white, red, and crimson.

The colour of kohl, lipstick, and the purple tattoo engraved on my hand.

I see them at night close to the window,

yellow, crazy, slow and cold, hasty and foolish.

Sometimes they’re not warm like soup on an icy night

Or like a pillow that supports the back in the desert of rhymes.

I find them wherever and whenever it might be,

but I find them, and what’s what matters.

Next to a picture,

or on a wall.

Or in the pocket of a friend,

loose or held in place by hair clips or clothes pegs.


Time bends to poetry

and walks on at leisure in the writing.

White is the snow, and deep blue is the night.


My life is a piece of cloth, embroidered

with silk and golden thread.

My letters are lace, and the holes mark

the passage of love and gratitude.

My life’s a little chessboard

while the big battles

take place somewhere else.


A complicated game of chess

that I play with the mentality of a man

and the pride of a woman.


I fluctuate between the two

because August threw me into the sea of drowsiness

to dream: I wish I was a man or another woman.


Would I be a refugee who touts lilies in Europe

or the Roma woman who sells roses on the pavement?

Would I be the tune that leaps in my heart

and the peace that drives me to dance?


Like a little boy abandoned by his family in the deadly forest,

I was alone when you closed the door

and left me.


Forests of darkness

Mountains of words

What agony! What vision!


I thought the world was like a collection of little lies

and that you were one of them


Like a witch for whom they set up a gallows

when she prepares incantations that speak of love.


What’s wrong with this desert, chasing me and trying to stuff my mouth with sand!

What’s wrong with these winter storms, pursuing me and braiding threads of revenge!


The bulbuls live in the trees

sadness lurks in our breasts

and you are ecstatic and at ease

on the morning when an earthquake tears the world apart.


Because I’m a simple woman

like the ancient witches

and like them, I’m naïve when faced with letters.


As happy as an ordinary woman

and bare-hearted like an ancient tree,

with torn stockings like women who are always brawling.


Foolishly tearful, like a refugee displaced for eternity,

obsessed with books, poetry, and stars

in old orbits


I look for you. Sometimes I find you in letters,

sometimes in words that are part of the bark of the tree that’s my life.


Words that neither wilt

nor run dry

neither complain nor totter

like a song falling from a stubborn fate.

What can I do, other than love you?

What can I say but “I love you”?

All of them

I am them

I’m the poet who does not know she’s a poet.


My heart is a little recording device carried by a poet who’s my elder sister

and who shows me that words have two faces

white and black

and that we’re just poets in the court of fugitive time,

celebrating words on the run from the thrall of the night.


Click for more about Liana Badr in Banipal


Translated by Jonathan Wright


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