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Things Sleeping

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.

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