Mahmoud Darwish

13 March 1941 – 9 August 2008 / Palestinian

On A Canaaite Rock At The Dead Sea

The sea opens no door before me...
I say my poem
is a rock flying at my father
like a partridge. Father,
have you heard what has happened to me?
The sea closes no door before me.
No mirror I can shatter makes a path
of slivers before me
or a path of foam. Does anyone
weep for anyone, that I
may carry his flute and reveal
the secrets of my own wreckage?
I am of the shepherds of salt
in al-Aghwar. A bird plucks
at my language, building a nest in my tents
from the scattered azure.
Is there still a country
that flowed out of me
so I can look at it as I wish,
so it can look at me
at the west coast of myself on the stone of eternity?
This absence of yours is all trees
looking at you from yourself
and from this smoke of mine.
Jericho sleeps under her ancient palm tree.
I find no one to rock her cradle.
Their caravans grow quiet, so sleep.
I looked for a root for my name
but I am split apart
by a magic wand. Do my dreams reveal
my victims or my visions?
All the prophets are my family.
Yet heaven is still far from its land
and I am far from my words.
No wind lifts me above the past here.
No wind tears a wave from the salt of this sea.
There are no white flags for the dead to wave
to surrender, no voices for the living
to exchange declarations of peace...
The sea carries my silver shadow at dawn
and shepherds me to my first words,
to the breast of the first woman.
it lives dead in the pagan's dance
around his space and dies alive
by the pairing of poem and sword.
At the crossroads of Egypt, Asia
and the North, stranger, halt your horse
under our palm trees. On Syrian roads,
foreigners exchange war helmets
bristling with basil
sown from doves that alight
from the houses; and the sea died
of monotony in the undying testaments.
I am myself if only you yourself
were there as yourself. I am the stranger
to the desert palm tree from the time I was born
into this crowded mass. And I am myself
A war rages against me. A war rages
within me... Stranger, hang your weapons
above our palm tree so I may plant
my wheat in the sacred soil of Canaan...
Take wine from my jars. Take a page
from my gods' book. Take a portion
of my meal and gazelle from the traps
of our shepherds' songs.
Take the Canaanite woman's prayers
at the feast of her grapes. Take our customs
of irrigation. Take our architecture.
Lay a single brick and build up
a tower for doves, to be one of us,
if that's what you desire. Be a neighbor
to our wheat. Take the stars
of our alphabet from us, stranger.
Write heaven's message with me
to mankind's' fear of nature and men.
Leave Jericho under her palm tree
but do not steal my dream, the milk
of my woman's breast, the food
of ants in cracks of marble!
Have you come... then murdered... then inherited
in order to increase the salt of this sea?
I am myself growing greener
with the passing of years on the oak's trunk.
This is me and I am myself. This is my
place in my place, and now I see you in the past
the way you came, yet you don't see me.
I illuminate for my present
its tomorrow. Time sometimes separates me
from my place, and my place separates me from my time.
All the prophets are my family.
Yet heaven is still far from its land
and I am still far from my words.
And the sea descends below sea level
so my bones float over water like trees.
My absence is all trees. The shadow
of my door is a moon.
My mother is a Canaanite and this sea
is a constant bridge to the Day of Judgment.
Father, how many times must I die
on the bed of the legendary woman
Anat chose for me, so a fire
will ignite in the clouds? How many
times must I die in my old mint garden
every time your high northern wind
envelops the mint and scatters letters like doves?
This is my absence, a master
who reads his laws upon Lot's descendants
and sees no pardon for Sodom
but myself. This is my absence,
a master who reads his laws
and mocks my visions. Of what use
is the mirror to the mirror?

A bond of familiarity lies
between us, but you will not arise
from history, nor erase the sea steam
from you. And the sea, this sea,
smaller than its myth, smaller than
your hands, is a crystalline isthmus.
Its beginning is like its end.
There is no sense here for your absurd entry
in a legend that grinds armies into ruin
just so another army may march through,
writing its own story, carving its
own name into a mountain. A third will come
to chronicle the story of an unfaithful wife
and a fourth comes to erase the names
of our forebears. Each army has a poet
and a historian, each a violin for the dancers,
cynical from first to last. Hopelessly, I seek
my absence, more innocent than the donkeys
of the prophets that tread the foothills
carrying heaven to mankind...
And the sea, this sea, lies
within my grasp. I will walk
across it, will mint its silver, will grind
its salt in my hands. This sea is not occupied
by anyone. Cyrus, Pharaoh, Caesar, Negus
and the others came to write their names, with my hand,
on its tablets. So I write: The land is in my name
and the name of the land is the gods that share
my place on the seat of stone. I have
not gone, have not returned with slippery time.
And I am myself despite my defeat.
I have seen the coming days gilding my first trees.
I saw my mother's spring. Father, I have seen
her needle stitching two birds, one for her shawl
and one for the shawl of my sister, and a butterfly
unscalded by a butterfly for our sake. I have
seen a body for my name. I am the male dove
moaning in the female dove. I have seen
our house furnished in greenery and I saw
an entry door and an exit door
and a door that was both.
Has Noah passed from that place to that place
to say about the world, ' It has
two different doors,' but the horse flies with me
and the horse flies with me higher still and I fall
like a wave that erodes the foothills.
Father, I am myself despite my defeat.
I saw my days in front of me and I have seen
among my documents a moon
overlooking the palm trees.
And I saw an abyss. I saw war after war,
That tribe became extinct and that tribe
told the present Hulagu, 'We're yours.
I say, 'We're not a slave nation,
and I send my respects to Ibn Khaidun.'
I am myself despite being smashed on the metallic air.
I have been handed over by the new Crusader war
to the god of vengeance and the Mongol
lurking behind the Imam's mask.
And to the salt women in a legend
etched into my bones. I am myself,
if only you were my father, but I am
a stranger to the palm trees of the desert
from the time. I was born into this crowded mass.
And I am myself. The sea opens
no door before me. I say my poem
is a rock flying at my father
like a partridge. Father,
have you heard what has happened to me?
The sea closes no door before me.
No mirror I can shatter makes a path
of its slivers before me...
And all the prophets are my family,
but heaven is still far from its land
and I am far from my words.
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