A prayer and a poem

Mahmoud Darwish
10 August 2008

Murdered Houses

In one minute the lifetime of a house is ended. When a house is killed, it is a serial killing, even if the house is empty: a mass grave of all the things once used to give a home to Meaning, or, in times of war, to a marginal poem.

A slaughtered house is the severing of things from what they meant, from the feelings they inspired. It's the duty of tragedy to change the gaze of eloquence and to reflect upon the life of Things, for in everything there's a being that suffers: a memory of fingers, a memory of a smell, a memory of a picture. Houses are murdered just as their inhabitants are killed and the memories of things are slaughtered: stones, wood, glass, iron, mortar - scattered like human limbs. Cotton silk, linen, exercise books, books - torn apart like the unsaid words of people who did not have the time to say them. Dishes broken, spoons, toys, old records, pipes, doorknobs, the refrigerator, the washing machine, pots, jars of olives and pickles, cars - all broken, like their owners. The two whites - sugar and salt - are trod upon along with matchboxes, medicines, birth control pills, steroids, strings of garlic and onions, dried okra, tomatoes, rice and lentils - all are trod upon as are their owners.

Land-deeds and marriage certificates torn apart with birth papers, water and electricity bills, identity cards, passports, love letters - torn apart like the hearts of their owners.

Photographs are swept away with combs, make-up, brushes, shoes, lingerie, sheets, towels, swept away like family secrets betrayed to others and to devastation. All these things are the memories of people deprived of things, and the memory of things deprived of people .... Everything ends in one minute. Things die like we do, but they are not buried with us.

Translation: Tania Nasir and John Berger


Lebanon, Chris Anderson, August 2006


The Girl / The Scream

There is a girl on a sea shore
And the girl has a family
And the family has a house
And the house has two windows and a door.
And at sea there's a warship playing a game
of targeting those taking a stroll on the shore.
Four five seven drop to the sand.
The girl is spared by a sleeve of mist
a certain celestial sleeve came to rescue her.
She calls out: Dad, my Dad, let's go home, this sea is not for us.
And the father does not reply.
He lies there in an agony of absence, wrapped in his shadow in an agony of absence.
Blood in her palms blood in the clouds,
Her scream flies away with her far from the sea shore and higher.
She screams in the night of a wilderness
The echo has no echo
And the girl becomes the eternal scream of a breaking news event made obsolete by the planes return
to bomb a house with two windows and a door.

Translation: Tania Nasir and John Berger

Mahmoud Darwish is regarded as the greatest living Palestinian poet. He is the author of more than thirty books of poems, and the founder and editor of the literary journal al-Karmel. His many awards include France's Order of Arts and Letters (1993) and the Lannan Foundation's Award for Cultural Freedom (2002). He lives in Ramallah, Palestine. His website is here.

Among his works in English are:

Unfortunately, It Was Paradise - selected poems (University of California Press, 2003)

Also in openDemocracy:

John Berger, "Undefeated despair" (13 January 2006)

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