The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Goodbye Mahmoud Darwish

"My Mother"

I long for my mother's bread

My mother's coffee
Her touch
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.

And if I come back one day
Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
I might become immortal
Become a God
If I touch the depths of your heart.

If I come back
Use me as wood to feed your fire
As the clothesline on the roof of your house
Without your blessing
I am too weak to stand.

I am old
Give me back the star maps of childhood
So that I
Along with the swallows
Can chart the path
Back to your waiting nest. 


(Mahmoud Darwish, translation found on

Mahmoud Darwish died on Saturday. Many obits refer to him as something like "Palestine's national poet" or "the poet of the Palestinian cause" which in a way is true but which makes this extraordinarily talented poet sound like something smaller than he was. He wasn't just the voice of a particular state or people; he wasn't a propagandist. What I found outstanding about his work is how--deeply and constantly concerned as he is with the problems of Palestinians--he manages to never be ideological, to always be free within his writing, open-eyed and even funny, a true artist. And therefore universal and all the more powerful when he does talk of the suffering and injustice of Palestinians. I still remember the shock of delight when I first read "Memory for Forgetfulness" ("what a book!"), of which an excellent English translation is available. 

Al Jazeera English has a nice segment on Darwish. I also recommend his official site, which has a great selection of audio recordings (unfortunately seemingly without the transcripts to go with) of the poet reciting his work. And I'm posting more English translations of some of his poems after the jump.

"Identity Card is one of the first poems that made Darwish famous across the Arab world. 


Identity Card

Record !
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the nineth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?

Record !
I am an Arab
Employed with fellow workers at a quarry
I have eight children
I get them bread
Garments and books
from the rocks...
I do not supplicate charity at your doors
Nor do I belittle myself
at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?

Record !
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
My roots
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before the grass grew.

My father..
descends from the family of the plow
Not from a privileged class
And my grandfather..was a farmer
Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Teaches me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me how to read
And my house
is like a watchman's hut
Made of branches and cane
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name without a title !

Record !
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards
of my ancestors
And the land
which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks..
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!

Therefore !
Record on the top of the first page:
I do not hate people
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food
Of my hunger
And my anger !


The Pigeons Fly

The pigeons fly,

the pigeons come down...

Prepare a place for me to rest. 
I love you unto weariness,
your morning is fruit for songs
and this evening is precious gold
the shadows are strong as marble.
When I see myself,
it is hanging upon a neck that embraces only the clouds,
you are the air that undresses in front of me like tears of the grape,
you are the beginning of the family of waves held by the shore.
I love you, you are the beginning of my soul, and you are the end...
the pigeons fly
the pigeons come down...

I am for my lover I am. And my lover is for his wandering star
Sleep my love
on you my hair braids, peace be with you... 
the pigeons fly
the pigeons come down...

Oh, my love, where are you taking me away from my parents,
from my trees, small bed and from my weariness,
from my visions, from my light, from my memories and pleasant evenings,
from my dress and my shyness,
where are you taking me my love, where?
You take me, set me on fire, and then leave me
in the vain path of the air 
that is a sin ... that is a sin...
the pigeons fly
the pigeons come down...

My love, I fear the silence of your hands.
Scratch my blood so the horse can sleep. 
My love, female birds fly to you 
take me as a wife and breathe.
My love I will stay and breasts will grow for you 
The guards take me out of your way
my love, I will cry upon you, upon you, upon you.
because you are die surface of my sky. 
My body is the land,
the place for you...
the pigeons fly
the pigeons come down...