Ghassan Zaqtan

1954 / Beit Jala / Palestine

A Young Man From Al-Jaheer Expresses His Regrets… -

I must leave this town:
a town where the sun never shines on me,
where there's never any shade,

a town with no bar to drown all my sorrows,
a place where no one even knows I exist!

I must move on surreptitiously,
with no regrets nor bitterness….

I don't have a place in the official celebrations,
nor a seat of my own in the gardens.

Those birds have shown me the way:
I may not have a horse

but I have nothing to fear
there are no walls around me….

But I must leave at once!
I must throw its old laws to the dogs,

and grind its traditions in the dirt,
then slip away, under cover of darkness….

It was night the first time I got here —
the days before my hair had turned grey —

I fetched up here adrift and mixed up,
as rootless as a houseplant in a tub.

In those days my stride was firm,
and my voice never wavered,

In those days I never fell silent….
Now I'm exhausted by the gossip of this place,

I'm worn out by the corruption,
by those obtuse, hotheaded women

by the drunken, deluded parades every night,
by the babbling old men, the fanatics wailing and repenting….

I must get out!
I must shake this town's dust from my feet….

So while the shepherds return from the well,
while the indolent elders sneak back from their dens,

while the preachers come out of the darkness,
and the windows slam shut in the sandstorm,

by the time they are wallowing in their dreams
and the lines become blurred

between the sacred and the profane,
where day becomes night….

— I'll be away on the far side of the valley,
by the edge of the cedar woods, on top of the hill.

Translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah
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