Ghassan Zaqtan

1954 / Beit Jala / Palestine

Everything As It Was

What led him over there
in such cold weather?
Not longing or curiosity
but maybe fear or perhaps it was
the chill in the room
though everything appeared as it was
as he wrote in an old poem he could not finish

"…Everything is still as it was
since we had gone out to war,
since childhood or before,
perhaps the sun of those years made the white curtains grow
fainter and the pebbles
in the hallway became rounder
and shinier or the grass had grown longer
or dried up!

The three mirrors are as they were
the sheets the shelf
and the broom

the family photo
the leather-bound Quran
the rosary of the deceased grandmother

everything was as if nothing had changed.
Perhaps we
we who fell upon the war
from the school bell…"

That was in the summer of 1986 in Damascus, his mother was still alive then
and there was an opening somewhere in that poem, more like a hole that followed him,
he'd hear it stumble behind him wherever he went, especially when toward the anxious
endings in his dreams, and even there, they, the boys, would continue to stare at him
and send out their perplexing gestures, the boys who did not return after the midnight
patrols, and the dead who went back to sit on their houses' doorsteps

Now he feels a saunter in him through that opening, without knowing exactly where it is,
and where the poem is, in its painful incompleteness

Dampened with patience
overtaken by haste
he thought this kind of trickery
would befit the ending!

He could replace the "grandmother" with the "mother"
and observe the disintegrating plaster above the door's awning
the upside down chair
where the mallow flowers stumble and recover
without being nursed
and the gentle light through the back window
still in its same old place

Only the jasmine continued its climb, its eyes on the ceiling.
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