Translated by Mariam Hijjawi
Look at me, mother,
I’m back with more meat
and bones and wisdom.
These days I can think of death,
can sleep without being lulled,
my milk teeth now grind my losses.
I came back to find
tongues of lullabies severed,
children bellowing in every corner,
and the muezzin’s call stifled
by a strange hand.
Return is a movie screen,
and I no longer recognize the lead.
Though she’s only come in once,
she’s tampered with the script
a thousand times.
Return is a cat who ate its young.
Return is my braid,
which I cut off
and fed to time.
The once green garden is now a woman
afraid of old age,
the well, a bed in a hospital,
and cats are the souls of women
who cried on my arm.
And I am now your mother.
I shield your body with my own,
from the bullet that your seventy years
will suddenly release.
The accent I once rode
now rests beneath the earth.
What happened to the shifting “Qaf”
and the “Kaf” that barely came out?
Where is the sling and the bird?
Where is the neighbors’ boy?
What was his name?
And what was mine?
If I’d only had a single name
I wouldn’t have forgotten it,
it would have struck me right on the head
like a sniper’s bullet.
Where are the skins I cured with life’s salt?
Where are the supplies
for the war that never came?
They were devoured by waiting and mites.
Where is that northern gate
that opens out onto happiness?
Where is my uncle Mahmoud,
who used to eat grass and ask God
to forgive humanity’s sins?
My old father, who became my son, is dead.
But where is the young man
who was once my father?
Where is that body I used to climb,
from whose forehead I picked
the sour fruits of time?
Tell him that all the teachings of politics
have rotted in my head
and that I’ve replaced them
with poems I do not understand.
I wanted to repair the verses
but ruined them instead.
My mother put a finger to her mouth,
signaled me to keep quiet—
she pointed at the piles
of things sleeping.