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A State of Siege

 
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Mahmoud Darwish -  Ramallah -  January 2002 

Translated by Ramsis Amun



Here, where the hills slope before the sunset and the chasm of time
near gardens whose shades have been cast aside
we do what prisoners do
we do what the jobless do
we sow hope

In a land where the dawn sears
we have become more doltish
and we stare at the moments of victory
there is no starry night in our nights of explosions
our enemies stay up late, they switch on the lights
in the intense darkness of this tunnel

Here after the poems of Job, we wait no more

This siege will persist until we teach our enemies
models of our finest poetry

the sky is leaden during the day
and a fiery orange at night� but our hearts
are as neutral as the flowery emblems on a shield

here, not �I�
Here, Adam remembers the clay of which he was born 

He says, on the verge of death, he says,
�I have no more earth to lose�
Free am I, close to my ultimate freedom, I hold my fortune in my own hands
In a few moments, I will begin my life
born free of father and mother
I will chose letters of sky blue for my name

Under siege, life is the moment between remembrance 
of the first moment, and forgetfulness of the last

here, under the mountains of smoke, on the threshold of my home, 
time has no measure
We do what those who give up the ghost do�
we forget our pain 

Pain is when the housewife forsakes hanging up the clothes to dry and is content
that this flag of Palestine should be without stain

There is no Homeric echo here 
Myths come knocking on our door when we need them
There is no Homeric echo here� only a general
looking through the rubble for the awakening state
concealed within the galloping horse from Troy

The soldiers measure the space between being and nothingness
with field-glasses behind a tank�s armoury 

We measure the space between our bodies and the coming rockets
with our sixth sense alone

You there, by the threshold of our door
Come in, and sip with us our Arabic coffee
[you may even feel that you are human, just as we are]
you there, by the threshold of our door
take your rockets away from our mornings
we may then feel secure
[and almost human]

We may find time for relaxation and fine art
We may play cards, and read our newspapers
Catching up on the news of our wounded past
and we may look up our star signs in the year
two thousand and two, the camera smiles
to those born under the sign of the siege

Whenever yesterday comes to me, I say to her, 
Now�s not the right time. Go 
and come tomorrow!

I wrack my head, but uselessly.
What can someone like me think of, there, 
on the tip of the hillside, for the past 3 thousand years, 
and in this passing moment?
My thoughts slay me
my memory awakens me

When the helicopters disappear the doves fly back
white, very white, marking the cheeks of the horizon
with liberated wings. They revive their radiance and their ownership
of the sky, and of playfulness. Higher and higher they fly, 
the doves, very white. �O that the sky
was real� [a man passing between two bombs cried]
A sparkling sky, a vision, lightning!
all very similar�.
soon I will know if this is indeed
a revelation
or my close friends will know that the poem 
has gone, and yoked its poet

[to a critic]: Don�t interpret my words
as you stir the sugar in your cup, or munch your breast of chicken!
Words put me under siege in my sleep�
the words I did not utter. 
They write me, then leave me searching for the remains of my sleep

The evergreen Cypresses behind the soldiers are minarets protecting
the sky from falling. Behind the barbed wire
are soldiers urinating- protected by a tank.
The Autumn day completes its golden stroll on the pavements of 
a street as empty as a church after Sunday prayers

Tomorrow we will love life. 
When tomorrow comes, life will be something to adore
just as it is, ordinary, or tricky
gray, or colourful�stripped of judgement day and purgatory�
and if joy is a necessity
let it be
light on the heart and the back
Once embittered by joy, twice shy

A satirical writer said to me:
If I knew the end of the story at the very beginning
there would be nothing to laugh about!

[To a killer:] If you reflected upon the face 
of the victim you slew, you would have remembered your mother in the room
full of gas. You would have freed yourself
of the bullet�s wisdom,
and changed your mind: �I will never find myself thus.�

[To another killer:] If you left the foetus thirty days 
in its mother�s womb, things would have been different.
The occupation would be over and this suckling infant
would forget the time of the siege
and grow up a healthy child
reading at school, with one of your daughters
the ancient history of Asia. 
They might even fall in love
and give birth to a daughter [she would be Jewish by birth].
What, then, have you done now?
Your daughter is now a widow
and your granddaughter an orphan. 
What have you done with your scattered family?
And how have you slain three doves in one story?

This verse was not
really necessary. Forget about the refrain
and forget about being economical with the pain. 
It�s all superflous
like so much dross

The mist is darkness- a thick, white darkness
peeled by an orange, and a promising woman

The siege is lying in wait. 
It is lying in wait on a tilted stairway
in the midst of a storm.

We are alone. We are alone to the point
of drunkenness with our own aloneness, 
with the occasional rainbow visiting.

We have brothers and sisters overseas..
kind sisters, who love us..
who look our way and weep. 
And secretly they say
�I wish that siege was here, so that I could��
But they cannot finish the sentence.
Do not leave us alone. No. 
Do not leave us alone. 

Our losses are between two and eight a day. 
And ten are wounded.
Twenty homes are gone.
Forty olive groves destroyed, 
in addition to the structural damage
afflicting the veins of the poem, the play, 
and the unfinished painting. 

In the alleyway, lit by an exiled lantern, 
I see a refugee camp at the crossroads of the winds. 
The south rebels against the wind. 
The east is a west turned religious. 
The west is a murderous truce minting the coinage of peace. 
As for the north, the distant north, 
it is not a place or a geographical vicinity. 
It is the conference of heavenly divinity. 

A woman said to a cloud: cover my dear one, 
for my clothes are wet with his blood. 

If you are not rain, o dear one, 
then be a tree, 
fertile and verdant. Be a tree.
And if not a tree, o dear one
be a stone
laden with dew. Be a stone. 
And if not a stone, o dear one, 
be the moon itself
in the dreams of she who loves you. Be the moon itself. 
[thus a woman said 
to her son, in his funeral]

O you who are sleepless tonight, did you not tire 
of following the light in our story
and the red blaze in our blood?
Did you not tire, you who are sleepless tonight?

Standing here. Sitting here. Always here. Eternally here, 
we have one aim and one aim only: to continue to be. 
Beyond that aim we differ in all. 
We differ on the form of the national flag (we would have done well if we had chosen
o living heart of mine, the symbol of a simple mule).
We differ on the words of the new anthem 
(we would have done well to choose a song on the marriage of doves). 
We differ on the duties of women
(we would have done well to choose a woman to run the security services).
We differ on proportions, public and private. 
We differ on everything. We have one aim: to continue to be.
After fulfilling this aim, we will have time for other choices. 

He said to me, on his way to jail, 
�When I am released I will know that praise of nation
is like pouring scorn on nation-
a trade like any other!

A little of the infinite blue 
suffices
to reduce the burden of our times
and cleanse the mud from this place right now

The spirit needs to improvise
and walk upon its silken soles
by my side, as hand in hand, two old friends
we share a crust of bread
and an old flask of wine
walking the path together, 
then our days fork off into two separate paths:
I to the unknown, and she
sits squatting upon a high rock

[to a poet] Whenever the sunset eludes you
you are ensnared in the solitude of the gods. 
Be �the essence� of your lost subject
and the subject of your lost essence. Be present in your absence

He finds time for sarcasm:
My telephone has stopped ringing. 
My doorbell has also stopped ringing. 
So how did you know
that I am not here?

He finds time for song:
Waiting for you, I cannot wait
I cannot read Dostoyevsky
nor listen to Umm Kalthum, Maria Callas or another.
Waiting for you, the hands of the watch go from right
to left
to a time without a place. 
Waiting for you, I didn�t wait for you. 
I waited for eternity. 

He asks her, �What kind of flower is your favourite?�
She says, �The carnation. The black carnation.�
He asks her, �And where will you take me, with those black carnations?�
She says, �To the abyss of life within me.�
She says, �Further, further, further.� 

This siege will endure until the besiegers feel, like 
the besieged
that anger
is an emotion like any other. 

�I don�t love you. I don�t hate you,�
The prisoner said to the interrogator. �My heart is full
of that which is of no concern to you. My heart is full of the aroma of sage. 
My heart is innocent, radiant, brimming. 
There is no time in the heart for tests. No. 
I do not love you. Who are you that I may give my love to you?
Are you part of my being? Are you a coffee rendezvous?
Are you the wind of the flute, and a song, that I may love you?
I hate imprisonment. But I do not hate you.�
Thus a prisoner said to the investigator. �My feelings are not your concern. 
My emotions are my own private night�
my night which moves from bed to bed free of rhyme
and of double meanings!

We sat far from our destinies, like birds
which build their nests in cracks in statues
or in chimneys, or in tents
erected on the prince�s path at the time of the hunt

On my ruins the shadows grow green
and the wolf sleeps on a hybernating poem, 
dreaming, like me, and like a guardian angel, 
that life is pure and free of label

Myths refuse to amend their patterns. 
Perhaps they were struck by a crack in the hull;
perhaps their ships have been stranded on 
a land without a people.
Thus the idealist was overcome by the realist. 
But the ships will not change their mould.
Whenever an unpleasant reality crosses their path
they demolish it with a bulldozer. 
The colour of their truth dictates the text: she is beautiful, 
white, without blemish. 

[to a semi-orientalist] Let�s say things are the way you think they are - 
that I am stupid, stupid, stupid
and that I cannot play golf
or understand high technology
nor can fly a plane!
Is that why you have ransomed my life to create yours?
If you were another - if I were another
we would have been a couple of friends who confessed our need for folly
But the fool, like Shylock the merchant, 
consists of heart, and bread, and two frightened eyes

Under siege, time becomes a location
solidified eternally
Under siege, place becomes a time
abandoned by past and future

This low, high land
this holy harlot�
we do not pay much attention to the magic of these words
a cavity may become a vacuum in space
a contour in geography

The dead besiege me with every new day
and ask me, �Where were you? Give back
to the lexicon all the words 
you offered me
and let the sleepers sleep without phantoms in their dreams!
The dead teach me the lesson: there is no aesthetic beyond freedom

The dead point out to me: why search beyond the horizon
for the eternal virgins? We loved life
on earth, between the fig and the pine trees
but we couldn�t find our way even there. We searched 
until we gave life all we owned: the purple blood in our veins

The dead besiege me. �Do not walk in the funeral
if you did not know me. I seek no compliments
from man nor beast

The dead warn me. �Do not believe their rejoicing.
Listen instead to my dad as he looks at my photo crying.
�How did you take my place, son, and jump ahead of me?
I should have gone first! I should have gone first!�

The dead besiege me. �I have only changed my place of abode and my furnishings. 
The deer now walk on my bedroom�s roof
and the moon warms the ceiling from the pain
thus putting an end to my pain 
to put an end to my wailing.�

and the moon warms the ceiling
to put an end to my wailing.�

This siege will endure until we are truly persuaded
into choosing a harmless slavery, but 
in total freedom!

To resist: that means to ensure the health 
of heart and testicles, and that your ancient disease 
is still alive and well in you
a disease called hope

in the remains of the dawn I walk outside of my own body
in the remains of the night I hear the footsteps of my own being

I raise my cup to those who drink with me
to an awakening to the beauty of the butterfly
in the long tunnel of this dark night

I raise my cup to those who drink with me
in the thick darkness of a night overflowing with crippled souls
I raise my cup to the apparition in my being

[to a reader] Don�t trust the poem
She is the absentee daughter. She is neither an intuition 
nor a surmise, but a sense of disaster

If love is crippled, I will heal it 
with exercise and humour
and with separating the singer from the song 

My friends are ever preparing a party for me- 
a farewell party, and a comfortable grave in the shadow of the oak
together with a marble witness from the tombstone of time
But I seem to be first in attending their funerals.
Who has died today?

The siege is transforming me from a singer
to a sixth string on a five string violin

The deceased, daughter of
the deceased, who is herself daughter of the deceased, who is the deceased�s sister
The deceased resister�s sister is related by marriage to the mother of the deceased, who is grandaughter of the deceased�s grandfather
and neighbour to the deceased�s uncle (etc. ..etc.)
No news worries the developed world, 
for the time of barbarism has passed
and the victim is Joe Bloggs. Nobody knows his name, 
and the tragedy, like the truth, is relative (etc. ..etc.)

Quiet, quiet, for the soldiers need
at this hour to listen to the songs
which the dead resisters had listened to, and have remained
like the smell of coffee, in their blood, fresh

Truce, truce. A time to test the teachings: can helicopters be turned into ploughshares?
We said to them: truce, truce, to examine intentions. 
The flavour of peace may be absorbed by the soul.
Then we may compete for the love of life using poetic images. 
They replied, �Don�t you know that peace begins with oneself, 
if you wish to open the door to our citadel of truth?
So we said, �And then?�

Writing is a small ant which bites extinction. 
Writing is a bloodless wound. 

Our cups of coffee, and the birds, and the green trees
with the blue shade, and the sun leaping from wall
to wall like a doe
and the waters in the skies of infinite shapes, in what is left to us
of sky�and other matters the memory of which has been put on hold
prove that this morning is strong and beautiful 
and that we are guests of evermore


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