With thanks to the ever excellent & useful ArabLit for this compilation:
On February 14, poet and memoirist Mourid Barghouti died in Amman, Jordan, having spent most of his life in various exiles:
Below, a selection from his work available in translation, online.
Excerpt from I Saw Ramallah, with an introduction by Edward W. Said, translated by Ahdaf Soueif
It is very hot on the bridge. A drop of sweat slides from my I forehead down to the frame of my spectacles, then the lens. A mist envelops what I see, what I expect, what I remember. The view here shimmers with scenes that span a lifetime; a lifetime spent trying to get here. Here I am, crossing the Jordan River. I hear the creak of the wood under my feet. On my left shoulder a small bag. I walk westward in a normal manner–or rather, a manner that appears normal. Behind me the world, ahead of me my world.
“The Bridge,” from I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, translated by Humphrey Davies.
The cliché has it that bridges are symbols of communication, connection, and coexistence. This bridge is a symbol of discrimination, distance, disunion, and the historic distinction between the frightener and the frightened, though sometimes it is hard to be sure who fears the other more. Have the meanings of ‘bridge’ found in the dictionary been so completely distorted that they are no longer useful for describing this bridge? The Israeli obsession with security makes this bridge a great gap, a chasm with teeth. Everything in Israel is determined by its obsession with security. It is a nation that sees itself as forever victorious, forever frightened, and forever in the right. It has been victorious, and frightened, for sixty years. Always, whether fighting or negotiating, it enjoys the support of the only superpower in today’s world, as well as of all the European states. It also enjoys the secret collusion of twenty debased Arab regimes. It is a state that possesses more than two hundred nuclear warheads, has erected more than six hundred barriers and checkpoints, has built around us a wall 780 kilometers long, detains more than eleven thousand prisoners, controls all borders and crossing points leading to our country by land, sea, and air, and frames its laws with reference to a permanent philosophy that its victories do not change, a philosophy whose core is this mighty state’s fear… of us.
“The Obedience of Water,” translated by George Szirtes and Khaled Aljbailli
Translation by George Szirtes
English version by George Szirtes,
based on a literal translation from the Arabic by Khaled Aljbailli
How many nights of art, close study, hesitation and sacrifice,
at little or great expense, do you need to invent
the simplest of gadgets?
All you need to invent a tyrant is a single
bend of the knee.
* * *
No, he’s not a rhino, not a miracle,
in fact he may look like you. Or me.
Don’t be fooled. Those are not his claws
they are perfectly normal nails like yours.
Nor are those hooves, no,
they are his size eight, possibly
size nine, shoes.
He’s less heavy than you think. No, not a ton,
just the weight of an ordinary man,
say seventy or eighty kilos.
Is that his horn? No
it’s his smug little, snub little nose and, yes,
he might catch a cold like you and I.
He might even bleed.
* * *
When he takes his seat he doesn’t descend from heaven
on a cloud, no, he climbs up on our shoulders, yours and mine
and sits in the saddle of time dangling his legs,
two legs not six, if you care to check.
His mirror loves him. He loves his mirror. The love is mutual.
He adores the law. Any house he burns, anyone he kills,
any massacre he orders, is done in full accordance with the law.
Don’t insult your own intelligence
by hoping. Let that flame flicker, die, and unaccountably flicker again
while he’s in charge.
* * *
He regards even his tantrums as a sign of strength.
He would prefer us to be as water,
to see us stagnating at the bottom of the cup.
We must bow when he pours us out,
Not allowing a word to escape
and yet when we behaved like water as he intended
he raised his hands in mute appeal, astonished to be drowning.
Listen to Mourid Barghouti read “The Obedience of Water.”
“Interpretations,” translated by Radwa Ashour
“I Have No Problem,” translated by Radwa Ashour
“You and I,” translated by Dina al-Mahdi
“The Three Cypress Trees,” translated by Radwa Ashour
“It’s Also Fine,” translated by Radwa Ashour
“Old Age,” translated by Radwa Ashour
“The Pillow,” translated by Radwa Ashour
More at Poetry International