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Michael R Burch Oct 2020
Mahmoud Darwish: English Translations

Mahmoud Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging ... his is an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered.―Naomi Shihab Nye

by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
April's blushing advances,
the aroma of bread warming at dawn,
a woman haranguing men,
the poetry of Aeschylus,
love's trembling beginnings,
a boulder covered with moss,
mothers who dance to the flute's sighs,
and the invaders' fear of memories.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
September's rustling end,
a woman leaving forty behind, still full of grace, still blossoming,
an hour of sunlight in prison,
clouds taking the shapes of unusual creatures,
the people's applause for those who mock their assassins,
and the tyrant's fear of songs.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
Lady Earth, mother of all beginnings and endings!
In the past she was called Palestine
and tomorrow she will still be called Palestine.
My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life!

Identity Card
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am an Arab!
And my identity card is number fifty thousand.
I have eight children;
the ninth arrives this autumn.
Will you be furious?

I am an Arab!
Employed at the quarry,
I have eight children.
I provide them with bread,
clothes and books
from the bare rocks.
I do not supplicate charity at your gates,
nor do I demean myself at your chambers' doors.
Will you be furious?

I am an Arab!
I have a name without a title.
I am patient in a country
where people are easily enraged.
My roots
were established long before the onset of time,
before the unfolding of the flora and fauna,
before the pines and the olive trees,
before the first grass grew.
My father descended from plowmen,
not from the privileged classes.
My grandfather was a lowly farmer
neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Still, they taught me the pride of the sun
before teaching me how to read;
now my house is a watchman's hut
made of branches and cane.
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name, but no title!

I am an Arab!
You have stolen my ancestors' orchards
and the land I cultivated
along with my children.
You left us nothing
but these bare rocks.
Now will the State claim them
as it has been declared?

Record on the first page:
I do not hate people
nor do I encroach,
but if I become hungry
I will feast on the usurper's flesh!
Beware my hunger
and my anger!

NOTE: Darwish was married twice, but had no children. In the poem above, he is apparently speaking for his people, not for himself personally.

Excerpt from “Speech of the Red Indian”
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let's give the earth sufficient time to recite
the whole truth ...
The whole truth about us.
The whole truth about you.

In tombs you build
the dead lie sleeping.
Over bridges you *****
file the newly slain.

There are spirits who light up the night like fireflies.
There are spirits who come at dawn to sip tea with you,
as peaceful as the day your guns mowed them down.

O, you who are guests in our land,
please leave a few chairs empty
for your hosts to sit and ponder
the conditions for peace
in your treaty with the dead.

by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

They left me unrecognizable in the shadows
that bled all colors from this passport.
To them, my wounds were novelties―
curious photos for tourists to collect.
They failed to recognize me. No, don't leave
the palm of my hand bereft of sun
when all the trees recognize me
and every song of the rain honors me.
Don't set a wan moon over me!

All the birds that flocked to my welcoming wave
as far as the distant airport gates,
all the wheatfields,
all the prisons,
all the albescent tombstones,
all the barbwired boundaries,
all the fluttering handkerchiefs,
all the eyes―
they all accompanied me.
But they were stricken from my passport
shredding my identity!

How was I stripped of my name and identity
on soil I tended with my own hands?
Today, Job's lamentations
re-filled the heavens:
Don't make an example of me, not again!
Prophets! Gentlemen!―
Don't require the trees to name themselves!
Don't ask the valleys who mothered them!
My forehead glistens with lancing light.
From my hand the riverwater springs.
My identity can be found in my people's hearts,
so invalidate this passport!

Excerpts from "The Dice Player"
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Who am I to say
the things I say to you?

I am not a stone
burnished to illumination by water ...

Nor am I a reed
riddled by the wind
into a flute ...

No, I'm a dice player:
I win sometimes
and I lose sometimes,
just like you ...
or perhaps a bit less.

I was born beside the water well with the three lonely trees like nuns:
born without any hoopla or a midwife.

I was given my unplanned name by chance,
assigned to my family by chance,
and by chance inherited their features, attributes, habits and illnesses.

First, arterial plaque and hypertension;
second, shyness when addressing my elders;
third, the hope of curing the flu with cups of hot chamomile;
fourth, laziness in describing gazelles and larks;
fifth, lethargy dark winter nights;
sixth, the lack of a singing voice.

I had no hand in my own being;
it was mere coincidence that I popped out male;
mere coincidence that I saw the pale lemon-like moon illuminating sleepless girls
and did not unleash the mole hidden in my private parts.

I might not have existed
had my father not married my mother
by chance.

Or I might have been like my sister
who screamed then died,
only alive an hour
and never knowing who gave her birth.

Or like the doves’ eggs
smashed before her chicks hatched.

Was it mere coincidence
that I was the one left alive in a traffic accident
because I didn’t board the bus ...
because I’d forgotten about life and its routines
while reading the night before
a love story in which I became first the author,
then the lover, then the beloved and love’s martyr ...
then overslept and avoided the accident!

I also played no role in surviving the sea,
because I was a reckless boy,
allured by the magnetic water
calling: Come to me!
No, I only survived the sea
because a human gull rescued me
when he saw the waves pulling me under and paralyzing my hands!

Who am I to say
the things I say to you
outside the church door?

I'm nothing but a dice throw,
a toss between predator and prey.

In my moonlit awareness
I witnessed the massacre
and survived by sheer chance:
I was too small for the enemy to target,
barely bigger than the bee
flitting among the fence’s flowers.

Then I feared for my father and family;
I feared for our time as fragile as glass;
I feared for my pet cat and rabbit;
I feared for a magical moon looming high over the mosque’s minarets;
I feared for our vines’ grapes
dangling like a dog’s udders ...

Then fear walked beside me and I walked with it,
barefoot, forgetting my fragile dreams of what I had wanted for tomorrow
because there was no time for tomorrow.

I was lucky the wolves
departed by chance,
or else escaped from the army.

I also played no role in my own life,
except when Life taught me her recitations.
Are there any more?, I wondered,
then lit my lamps and tried to amend them ...

I might not have been a swallow
had the wind ordained it otherwise ...

The wind is the traveler's fate: his fortune or misfortune.

I flew north, east, west ...
but the south was too harsh, too rebellious for me
because the south is my country.
I became a swallow’s metaphor,
hovering over my life’s debris
from spring to autumn,
baptizing my feathers in the cloud-like lake
then offering my salaams to the undying Nazarene:
undying because God’s spirit lives within him
and God is the prophet’s luck ...

While it is my good fortune to be the Godhead’s neighbor ...

Just as it is my bad fortune the cross
remains our future’s eternal ladder!

Who am I to say
the things I say to you?
Who am I?

I might have not been inspired
because inspiration is the lonely soul’s compensation
and the poem is his dice throw
on an unlit board
that may or may not glow ...

Words fall ...
as feathers fall to earth:
I did not plan this poem.
I only obeyed its rhythm’s demands.

Who am I to say
the things I say to you?

It might not have been me.
I might not have been here to write it.
My plane might have crashed one morning
while I slept till noon
then arrived at the airport too late
to visit Damascus and Cairo,
the Louvre, and other enchanting cities.

Had I been a slow walker, a rifle might have severed my shadow from its cedar.
Had I been a fast walker, I might have disintegrated and vanished like a fleeting whim.
Had I dreamt too much, I might have lost my memories of reality.

I am fortunate to sleep alone
listening to my body's complaints
with my talent for detecting pain,
so that I call the physician ten minutes before death:
dodging death by a mere ten minutes,
continuing life by chance,
disappointing the Void.

But who am I to disappoint the Void?
Who am I?

Keywords/Tags: Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine, Palestinian, Arab, Arabic, translation, Gaza, Israel, children, mothers, injustice, violence, war, race, racism, intolerance, ethnic cleansing, genocide
Nora R Feb 2015
With an azure drinking cup studded with lapis, wait for her
In the evening at the spring, among perfumed roses, wait for her
With the patience of a horse trained for mountains, wait for her
With the distinctive, aesthetic taste of a prince, wait for her
With seven pillows stuffed with light clouds, wait for her
With strands of womanly incense wafting, wait for her
With the manly scent of sandalwood on horseback, wait for her
Wait for her and do not rush.

If she arrives late, wait for her.
If she arrives early, wait for her.
Do not frighten the birds in her braided hair.
Wait for her to sit in a garden at the peak of its flowering.
Wait for her so that she may breathe this air, so strange to her heart.
Wait for her to lift her garment from her calf, cloud by cloud.
And wait for her.

Take her to the balcony to watch the moon drowning in milk.
Wait for her and offer her water before wine.
Do not glance at the twin partridges sleeping on her chest.
Wait and gently touch her hand as she sets a cup on marble.
As if you are carrying the dew for her, wait.
Speak to her as a flute would to a frightened violin string,
as if you knew what tomorrow would bring.
Wait, and polish the night for her ring by ring.
Wait for her until Night speaks to you thus:
There is no one alive but the two of you.
So take her gently to the death you so desire,
and wait.
Poem by Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish. My favorite poet of all time and sadly does not have a profile I am aware of on HP.

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