We love life if we find a way to it.

Ramadan Kareem to those of you who are observing this month. Here’s a poem from the late great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008), whose words I grew up with and who has long been a touchstone of mine.

Image of a heart surrounded by jasmine with minarets and palm trees coming out of it
Art by Kristina Closs

“And We Love Life”

And we love life if we find a way to it.
We dance in between martyrs and raise a minaret for violet or palm trees.

We love life if we find a way to it.
And we steal from the silkworm a thread to build a sky and fence in this departure.

We open the garden gate for the jasmine to go out as a beautiful day on the streets.

We love life if we find a way to it.

And we plant, where we settle, some fast growing plants, and harvest the dead.
We play the flute like the color of the faraway, sketch over the dirt corridor a neigh.
We write our names one stone at a time, O lightning make the night a bit clearer.

We love life if we find a way to it…

translated from Arabic by Fady Joudah

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the road is still before us

Dear readers, friends,

It feels like both a lifetime ago and just yesterday that I was writing my last April poetry post in the spring of 2020. I hope wherever this finds you, you are holding up okay and still finding some joy in your life despite the hardships of this past year that have etched into our beings in so many different ways.

As many of you know, it has been my tradition since 2009 (!) to share a poem every day of April in honor of National Poetry Month. Confession: I have not read much poetry this past year…perhaps in part because of no daily access to the library, shattered focus from hours of staring at Zoom, and that general pandemic ennui that made it so much easier for us to just watch something streaming after absorbing Too Much News every day. I was very tempted to take a hiatus from the blog this year to spare myself more screen time, but I feel a deep tug, a sense of obligation, not only to you, but to myself, to continue.

And so I find myself back here, humbly trying to reconnect to verse and in turn, to share poetry that I love with all of you. I can’t promise that I will be able to do this daily, but I will try my very best.

The first poem of April is by the great Polish writer and translator Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021), who passed away just last week.

illustration of a bird looking at an anatomical heart by Kristina Closs
Painting by my dear friend Kristina Closs (WoodPigeon on Etsy)

“Wake Up”

Wake up, my soul.
I don’t know where you are,
where you’re hiding,
but wake up, please,
we’re still together,
the road is still before us,
a bright strip of dawn
will be our star.

From Asymmetry by Adam Zagajewski (translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh)

My lungs are my poetry, my eyes a book

Dear readers,

Thank you for following me on this month’s journey in verse. It’s always a pleasure to share the words that have woven themselves into my past year and to seek out new poets to introduce to you all. I hope you’ve encountered at least a few pieces along the way that have moved or confounded, delighted or enlivened you.

April’s final poem comes from the great Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber, who began writing under the name Adonis (1930-) in his late teenage years. As I mentioned in this month’s introductory post, the current state of the world has increasingly inspired me to turn to poetry for solace and sense. This song from Adonis is one I hold close to me as I try to comprehend the enormous weight of it all while still remembering those birds at the edges of our shared sky.

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“Song”

from “Elegy for the First Century”

Bells on our eyelashes
and the death throes of words,
and I among fields of speech,
a knight on a horse made of dirt.
My lungs are my poetry, my eyes a book,
and I, under the skin of words,
on the beaming banks of foam,
a poet who sang and died
leaving this singed elegy
before the faces of poets,
for birds at the edge of sky.
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translated by Khaled Mattawa