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A VAGUE QUESTION
My distant and safe friends
in their houses
on their streets
in their offices
and their playgrounds
sent me messages asking “Are you still alive?”
They did not write again
once they received
If I don’t surround my heart
in the time of rebellions
into which I was born
my loved ones will forget to tend the small flower-bed
on the chest of my grave
as I have left the graves
of my friends
How could he have ignited all this anger
without a smack or a shove from anyone . . .
How could he bear all this iron in the dimness of dawn?
He erects his body within his mound of steel,
inserts his finger in the trigger ring,
I leap with my eyes to the window,
half of me under the cover and the other half . . .
No heroism in the matter, no Imru al-Qais.
My ears are plugged with lead
and my eyes with the cold darkness.
twenty thousand sleepers
lop off their dreams
and are jolted right at this moment
even though there isn’t a glimmer of an eye
shining in the street.
I wait for the muezzin to raise his dawn cry to God
My mother grinds the air,
pours it handful by handful in an old bowl –
a hand in a bowl –
and turns the millstone . . .
- I’ll grind the last of the wheat and keep at home my desire
the millstone’s jaws grind her tears . . .
- and I’ll stay up all night with you and I won’t inquire
the millstone’s jaws grind her heart . . .
- and if I’m burned on my wound, I’ll weather my fire
The millstone’s jaws grind
in this refugee camp
Translated by Khaled Mattawa
Translated from the author’s collection Waja’a al-Zujaj [Pain of Glass], House of Poetry, Ramallah, and from unpublished poems