As you return home, to your home, think of others

Thinking of–and aching for–others around the world as I read and re-read these words by the magnificent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008).


“Think of Others”

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you wage your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you express yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: If only I were a candle in the dark).


I love autumn and the shade of meanings

I could probably fill this entire blog with poems by the phenomenal Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008).

“I love autumn and the shade of meanings.”

I love autumn and the shade of meanings.
Delighted in autumn by a light obscurity,
transparency of handkerchiefs, like poetry just after
birth, dazzled in night-blaze or darkness.
It crawls, and finds no names for anything.

Shy rain, which moistens only distant things,
delights me.
(In such autumns, marriage procession
and funeral intersect: the living
celebrate with the dead, and the dead
celebrate with the living.)

I delight to see a monarch stoop,
to recover the pearl of the crown from a fish in the lake.

In autumn I delight to see the commonness of colors,
no throne holds the humble gold in the leaves of humble trees
who are equal in the thirst for love.

I delight in the truce between armies,
awaiting the contest between two poets,
who love the season of autumn, yet differ
over the direction of its metaphors.

In autumn I delight in the complicity between
vision and expression.

translated by Mohammad Shaheen

Leave metaphor, and walk with me.

“Mahmoud Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link, and shine a brilliant light into the world’s whole heart. What he speaks has been embraced by readers around the world—his in an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered.”

Naomi Shihab Nye


The beloved and formidable Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish would have turned 71 today had he not passed away in 2008. Today, I share some words from one of his last works, Almond Blossoms and Beyond, to honor his legacy and everything he stood for.

An excerpt from “Like a Hand Tattoo from an Ode by an Ancient Arab Poet”

I am he.
He walks before me and I follow.
I do not say to him,
was something simple for us:
a green stone. A tree. a street,
an adolescent moon, a reality no longer real.
He walks before me.
I follow his shadow.
As he hurries, his shadow rises over the hills
and covers a pine tree in the South,
and covers a willow tree in the North.

I said:Did we not part?
He said:Yes.
I owe you the return of fantasy to the real,
and you owe me the apple’s surrender to gravity
I said: Where are you taking me?
He said: Toward the beginning., where you were born.
Here, you and your name.

If I could return to the beginning,
I would select fewer letters for my name,
letters easier on the foreign ear.

March is a month of storms and lust.
Spring looks on, like a thought between two people,
between a long winter and a long summer.
I remember nothing but allegory.
I was scarcely born when I woke
to a clear image between the horse’s mane,
and my mother’s braids.
Give up metaphor, and walk quietly
on the earth’s down, he said.

Sunset brings the stranger back
to his well, like a song that is not sung.
Sunset stirs up in us longing for an obscure passion.

Things acquire new meanings at sunset.
Memories wake and call,
like a signal of death at sunset,
like the beat of a song not sung to anyone.

(On cypress tree,
east of emotions,
gilded clouds,
in the heart, a chestnut brown
transparency of shadows, drunk like water.
Come, let us play;
come, let us go
to any star.)

I am he. He walks over me
and I ask him,
Do you remember anything here?
Tread softly-remember,
the earth is pregnant with us.

He said: I saw the moon shining here,
its grief plain, like an orange in the night.
It guides us in the wilderness to stray paths…
Without it, mothers could not meet their children.
Without it, wanderers could not read
their names in the night: Refugees,
guests of the wind.

My wings felt small in the wind that year.
I always thought the place was identified
by the mothers and the aroma of sage.
No one said to me,
this place is called a country,
around the country are borders,
and beyond the borders is another place,
called diaspora and exile for us.

I did not yet need an identity,
but they, men who came to us on tanks,
are carrying off our place on trucks.

The place is a feeling.
Those are our remains, like hand tattoos
in the mu’allaqa of the ancient poet.
They pass us and we pass them.

Thus said the one I was the day I did not know
the details of the names of our trees or the names
the birds who gather in me.
I did not remember the words to defend the place
from its removal, from its strange, new name
hedged with eucalyptus.

The signs say to us,
You were not here.

The storm abates.
The place is a feeling.
Those are our tracks, said he who was I,
Here our two orders of time meet and part.
Who are you in the presence of now?

I said: I am you, were it not for the smoke of factories.
He said: Who are you in the presence of yesterday?
I said: I am we, were it not
for the intrusion of
a verb in the imperfect tense.
He said: And who will you be tomorrow?
I said: A love poem that you will write when
you choose-since you are, yourself, a legend of love.

(Golden as old harvest songs
dark from the sting of the night,
white from the water’s endless laughter,
as you approach the spring
your eyes are almonds,
your lips two wounds of honey,
your legs towers of marble,
your hands on my shoulders two birds.
You give me a spirit that flutters
around the place.)

Leave metaphor, and walk with me.
Do you see traces of the moth in the light?

I said: I see you there, I see you pass
like one of the thoughts of our ancestors.
He said: Thus the moth recalls its poetic labor:
a song that the astronomers recognize
as proof of eternity.

I walk slowly by myself
and my shadow follows me, and I, it.
Nothing brings me back.
Nothing brings me back.
As if a part of me were departing,
anxious for tomorrow.
Do not wait for anyone.
Do not wait for me.


[the rest of the poem–which I highly recommend you read–is available here ]

All that is left is storytelling

I first encountered Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah (1971-) through his translations of the beloved Mahmoud Darwish. But it turns out Joudah is a stunning poet in his own right. It’s difficult to choose just one piece from his first collection The Earth in the Attic, so expect to read more of his work in the future.

poet Fady Joudah portrait

“Immigrant Song”

In the kitchen in the afternoon, peeling oranges and splitting cantaloupe gut,
All that is left is storytelling.

The one-radio, one-coffee-shop village now an almond field
And vacation-brochure ruins besieged by grass.

Everyday around noon a boy on a mule, the men out in the fields,
Bread fresh out of brick-oven, wrist deep in olive oil, elbows dripping.

The one-radio, one-coffee-shop village without an ink-line on paper,
Now spilled like beads out of a rosary.

Not what they would have grown.

We the people in god we trust.

We the people in god we trust everyday around noon a mule.

We the people dream the city: Oooh you give me fever.

Oooh you give me fever so bad I shake like beads out of a rosary.

Fever so bad it must’ve been malaria.

Hey doctor! You mule-ride away, you cost the rest of harvest.

Hey doctor, the city’s a medicine cabinet.

We plant tomatoes, okra, squash instead.

And a fig tree that won’t grow in Tennessee frost.

Trees die standing.

One-cantaloupe, one-rosary kitchen.

So fill up with fervor for your heart’s sake

Thanks for spending this lovely month with me, dear readers. I will try to continue posting poems when I have a chance. I concluded last year’s National Poetry Month selection with advice from the Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and now I close with some thought-provoking words from the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. If you’d like to hear the poem in Arabic, click here.

To a Young Poet

Don’t believe our outlines, forget them
and begin from your own words.
As if you are the first to write poetry
or the last poet.

If you read our work, let it not be an extension of our airs,
but to correct our errs
in the book of agony.

Don’t ask anyone: Who am I?
You know who your mother is.
As for your father, be your own.

Truth is white, write over it
with a crow’s ink.
Truth is black, write over it
with a mirage’s light.

If you want to duel with a falcon
soar with the falcon.

If you fall in love with a woman,
be the one, not she,
who desires his end.

Life is less alive than we think but we don’t think
of the matter too much lest we hurt emotions’ health.

If you ponder a rose for too long
you won’t budge in a storm.

You are like me, but my abyss is clear.
And you have roads whose secrets never end.
They descend and ascend, descend and ascend.

You might call the end of youth
the maturity of talent
or wisdom. No doubt, it is wisdom,
the wisdom of a cool non-lyric.

One thousand birds in the hand
don’t equal one bird that wears a tree.

A poem in a difficult time
is beautiful flowers in a cemetery.

Example is not easy to attain
so be yourself and other than yourself
behind the borders of echo.

Ardor has an expiration date with extended range.
So fill up with fervor for your heart’s sake,
follow it before you reach your path.

Don’t tell the beloved, you are I
and I am you, say
the opposite of that: we are two guests
of an excess, fugitive cloud.

Deviate, with all your might, deviate from the rule.

Don’t place two stars in one utterance
and place the marginal next to the essential
to complete the rising rapture.

Don’t believe the accuracy of our instructions.
Believe only the caravan’s trace.

A moral is as a bullet in its poet’s heart
a deadly wisdom.
Be strong as a bull when you’re angry
weak as an almond blossom
when you love, and nothing, nothing
when you serenade yourself in a closed room.

The road is long like an ancient poet’s night:
plains and hills, rivers and valleys.
Walk according to your dream’s measure: either a lily
follows you or the gallows.

Your tasks are not what worry me about you.
I worry about you from those who dance
over their children’s graves,
and from the hidden cameras
in the singers’ navels.

You won’t disappoint me,
if you distance yourself from others, and from me.
What doesn’t resemble me is more beautiful.

From now on, your only guardian is a neglected future.

Don’t think, when you melt in sorrow
like candle tears, of who will see you
or follow your intuition’s light.
Think of yourself: is this all of myself?

The poem is always incomplete, the butterflies make it whole.

No advice in love. It’s experience.
No advice in poetry. It’s talent.

And last but not least, Salaam.


but I am not a land or a journey

Tonight a poem from the magnificent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008), whom I have written about before.

No More and No Less

I am a woman. No more and no less
I live my life as it is
thread by thread
and I spin my wool to wear, not
to complete Homer’s story, or his sun.
And I see what I see
as it is, in its shape,
though I stare every once
in a while in its shade
to sense the pulse of defeat,
and I write tomorrow
on yesterday’s sheets: there’s no sound
other than echo.
I love the necessary vagueness in
what a night traveler says to the absence
of birds over the slopes of speech
and above the roofs of villages
I am a woman, no more and no less

The almond blossom sends me flying
in March, from my balcony,
in longing for what the faraway says:
“Touch me and I’ll bring my horses to the water springs.”
I cry for no clear reason, and I love you
as you are, not as a strut
nor in vain
and from my shoulders a morning rises onto you
and falls into you, when I embrace you, a night.
But I am neither one nor the other
no, I am not a sun or a moon
I am a woman, no more and no less

So be the Qyss of longing,
if you wish. As for me
I like to be loved as I am
not as a color photo
in the paper, or as an idea
composed in a poem amid the stags …
I hear Laila’s faraway scream
from the bedroom: Do not leave me
a prisoner of rhyme in the tribal nights
do not leave me to them as news …
I am a woman, no more and no less

I am who I am, as
you are who you are: you live in me
and I live in you, to and for you
I love the necessary clarity of our mutual puzzle
I am yours when I overflow the night
but I am not a land
or a journey
I am a woman, no more and no less

And I tire
from the moon’s feminine cycle
and my guitar falls ill
by string
I am a woman,
no more
and no less!

Translated by Fady Joudah

And now in Arabic…

انا امرأة لا اقل ولا أكثر
أعيش حياتي كما هي
خيطا فخيطا
وأغزل صوفي لألبسه , لا لأكمل قصة هومير أو شمسه
وأرى ما أرى
كما هو في شكله
بيْد أني أحدق ما بين حينٍ وآخر في ظله
لأحس بنبض الخسارة
فأكتب غدا
على ورق الأمس : لا صوت إلا الصدى .
أحبك الغموض الضروري في كلمات المسافر ليلاً إلى ما اختفى
من الطير فوق سفوح الكلام
وفوق سطوح القرى
أنا امراة لا أقل ولا أكثر
تُطيرني زهرة اللوز
في شهر آذار ، من شرفتي
حنينا إلى ما يقول البعيد :
” المسيني لأُورد خيلي ماء الينابيع ”
أبكي بلا سبب واضح ، و أحبك
أنت كما أنت ، لا سندا
أو سُدى
و يطلع من كتفيّ نهار عليك
و يهبط حين أضمك ، ليل إليك
و لست بهذا أو ذاك
لا ، لست شمسا ولا قمرا
أنا امرأة ، لا أقل ولا أكثر
فكُن أنت قيس الحنين
إذا شئت . أما أنا فيعجبني أن أحب كما أنا
لا صورة ملونة في الجريدة
أو فكرة ملحنة في الثصيدة بين الأيائل
أسمع صرخة ليلى البعيدة
من غرفة النوم : لا تتركيني سجينة قافيةٍ في ليالي القبائل
لا تتركيني لهم خبرا …
أنا امرأة , لا أقل ولا اكثر .
أنا من أنا ، مثلما
أنت من انت : تسكن فيّ
و أسكن فيك إليك و لك
أحب الوضوح الضروري في لغزنا المشترك
أنا لك حين أفيض عن الليل
لكنني لست أرضا
و لا سفرا
أنا امرأة ، لا أقل و لا أكثر
و تتعبني
دورة القمر الأنثوي
فتمرض جيتارتي
و تراً
أنا امرأة ،
لا أقل
و لا أكثر !

childhood memories grow up in me

Have you heard of Mahmoud Darwish, who died less than a year ago at the age of sixty-seven? He was considered by many to be the voice of Palestine; whether he was constructing poetry or prose, he was always writing as a fiercely proud Arab (he was born in Western Galilee). Look him up. Read his words. Let his poetry gift you with a different lens into a situation you may have only been exposed to through the news. I offer one of his more subtle poems to you tonight as I think about my mother, who is also a proud Palestinian.

First, in Arabic:


“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.

[….Did I say I was only posting one poem? Well surprise. Here’s one more…]

“I Belong There”
Translated by Carolyn Forche and Munir Akash

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home.