The earth is not a dream but living flesh

California garden views. Photo by me.

by Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

Hope is with you when you believe
The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie,
That all things you have ever seen here
Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

You cannot enter. But you’re sure it’s there.
Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
That there is nothing, just a seeming,
These are the ones who have no hope.
They think that the moment we turn away,
The world, behind our backs, ceases to exist,
As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass


And this is where the abyss begins

For this year’s World Poetry Day, I share with you the haunting words of Argentinian poet Roberto Juarroz (1925-1995). It seems especially fitting on this day to remember how vital it is for all of us to think of, and write about, each other…and how essential poetry is to imagining–and saving–the untold selves inhabiting this universe.


from First Vertical Poetry (1958)

I think that at this moment
maybe nobody in the universe is thinking about me,
I’m the only one who’s thinking me,
and if I were to die now
nobody, not even I, would think me.

And this is where the abyss begins,
as when I go to sleep.
I’m my own support and I take it away from me.
I help to curtain everything with absence.

That may be why
when you think of someone
it’s like saving them.

translated by W.S. Merwin

I’m listening to the grass as it splits through my skin

Listen close to the aching but fierce heartbeat of acclaimed Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish (1978-) in the opening piece of his first collection to appear in English, Nothing More to Lose. The rest of his book, which was just published in 2014, is as layered and complex as the ruins of this tormented landscape; order a copy for your local library if you can.

“Nothing More to Lose”

Lay your head on my chest and listen
to the layers of ruins
behind the madrasah of Saladin
hear the houses sliced open
in the village of Lifta
hear the wrecked mill, the lessons and reading
on the mosque’s ground floor
hear the balcony lights
go out for the very last time
on the heights of Wadi Salib
hear the crowds drag their feet
and hear them returning
hear the bodies as they’re thrown, listen
to their breathing on the bed
of the Sea of Galilee
listen like a fish
in a lake guarded by an angel
hear the tales of the villagers, embroidered
like kaffiyehs in the poems
hear the singers growing old
hear their ageless voices
hear the women of Nazareth
as they cross the meadow
hear the camel driver
who never stops tormenting me
Hear it
and let us, together, remember
then let us, together forget
all that we have heard

Lay your head on my chest:
I’m listening to the dirt
I’m listening to the grass
as it splits through my skin . . .

We lost our heads in love
and have nothing more to lose

Translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid