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Home >> Modern Arabic Poetry >> Mahmoud Darwish >> A State of Siege

A State of Siege

Poem No.: 14 :

Here, where the hills slope before the sunset and the chasm of time

near gardens whose shades have been cast aside

we do what prisoners do

we do what the jobless do

we sow hope


In a land where the dawn sears

we have become more doltish

and we stare at the moments of victory

there is no starry night in our nights of explosions

our enemies stay up late, they switch on the lights

in the intense darkness of this tunnel


Here after the poems of Job, we wait no more


This siege will persist until we teach our enemies

models of our finest poetry


the sky is leaden during the day

and a fiery orange at night but our hearts

are as neutral as the flowery emblems on a shield


here, not I

Here, Adam remembers the clay of which he was born


He says, on the verge of death, he says,

I have no more earth to lose

Free am I, close to my ultimate freedom, I hold my fortune in my own hands

In a few moments, I will begin my life

born free of father and mother

I will chose letters of sky blue for my name


Under siege, life is the moment between remembrance

of the first moment, and forgetfulness of the last


here, under the mountains of smoke, on the threshold of my home,

time has no measure

We do what those who give up the ghost do

we forget our pain


Pain is when the housewife forsakes hanging up the clothes to dry and is content

that this flag of Palestine should be without stain


There is no Homeric echo here

Myths come knocking on our door when we need them

There is no Homeric echo here only a general

looking through the rubble for the awakening state

concealed within the galloping horse from Troy


The soldiers measure the space between being and nothingness

with field-glasses behind a tanks armoury


We measure the space between our bodies and the coming rockets

with our sixth sense alone


You there, by the threshold of our door

Come in, and sip with us our Arabic coffee

[you may even feel that you are human, just as we are]

you there, by the threshold of our door

take your rockets away from our mornings

we may then feel secure

[and almost human]


We may find time for relaxation and fine art

We may play cards, and read our newspapers

Catching up on the news of our wounded past

and we may look up our star signs in the year

two thousand and two, the camera smiles

to those born under the sign of the siege


Whenever yesterday comes to me, I say to her,

Nows not the right time. Go

and come tomorrow!


I wrack my head, but uselessly.

What can someone like me think of, there,

on the tip of the hillside, for the past 3 thousand years,

and in this passing moment?

My thoughts slay me

my memory awakens me


When the helicopters disappear the doves fly back

white, very white, marking the cheeks of the horizon

with liberated wings. They revive their radiance and their ownership

of the sky, and of playfulness. Higher and higher they fly,

the doves, very white. O that the sky

was real [a man passing between two bombs cried]

A sparkling sky, a vision, lightning!

all very similar.

soon I will know if this is indeed

a revelation

or my close friends will know that the poem

has gone, and yoked its poet


[to a critic]: Dont interpret my words

as you stir the sugar in your cup, or munch your breast of chicken!

Words put me under siege in my sleep

the words I did not utter.

They write me, then leave me searching for the remains of my sleep


The evergreen Cypresses behind the soldiers are minarets protecting

the sky from falling. Behind the barbed wire

are soldiers urinating- protected by a tank.

The Autumn day completes its golden stroll on the pavements of

a street as empty as a church after Sunday prayers


Tomorrow we will love life.

When tomorrow comes, life will be something to adore

just as it is, ordinary, or tricky

gray, or colourfulstripped of judgement day and purgatory

and if joy is a necessity

let it be

light on the heart and the back

Once embittered by joy, twice shy


A satirical writer said to me:

If I knew the end of the story at the very beginning

there would be nothing to laugh about!


[To a killer:] If you reflected upon the face

of the victim you slew, you would have remembered your mother in the room

full of gas. You would have freed yourself

of the bullets wisdom,

and changed your mind: I will never find myself thus.


[To another killer:] If you left the foetus thirty days

in its mothers womb, things would have been different.

The occupation would be over and this suckling infant

would forget the time of the siege

and grow up a healthy child

reading at school, with one of your daughters

the ancient history of Asia.

They might even fall in love

and give birth to a daughter [she would be Jewish by birth].

What, then, have you done now?

Your daughter is now a widow

and your granddaughter an orphan.

What have you done with your scattered family?

And how have you slain three doves in one story?


This verse was not

really necessary. Forget about the refrain

and forget about being economical with the pain.

Its all superflous

like so much dross


The mist is darkness- a thick, white darkness

peeled by an orange, and a promising woman


The siege is lying in wait.

It is lying in wait on a tilted stairway

in the midst of a storm.


We are alone. We are alone to the point

of drunkenness with our own aloneness,

with the occasional rainbow visiting.


We have brothers and sisters overseas..

kind sisters, who love us..

who look our way and weep.

And secretly they say

I wish that siege was here, so that I could

But they cannot finish the sentence.

Do not leave us alone. No.

Do not leave us alone.


Our losses are between two and eight a day.

And ten are wounded.

Twenty homes are gone.

Forty olive groves destroyed,

in addition to the structural damage

afflicting the veins of the poem, the play,

and the unfinished painting.


In the alleyway, lit by an exiled lantern,

I see a refugee camp at the crossroads of the winds.

The south rebels against the wind.

The east is a west turned religious.

The west is a murderous truce minting the coinage of peace.

As for the north, the distant north,

it is not a place or a geographical vicinity.

It is the conference of heavenly divinity.


A woman said to a cloud: cover my dear one,

for my clothes are wet with his blood.


If you are not rain, o dear one,

then be a tree,

fertile and verdant. Be a tree.

And if not a tree, o dear one

be a stone

laden with dew. Be a stone.

And if not a stone, o dear one,

be the moon itself

in the dreams of she who loves you. Be the moon itself.

[thus a woman said

to her son, in his funeral]


O you who are sleepless tonight, did you not tire

of following the light in our story

and the red blaze in our blood?

Did you not tire, you who are sleepless tonight?


Standing here. Sitting here. Always here. Eternally here,

we have one aim and one aim only: to continue to be.

Beyond that aim we differ in all.

We differ on the form of the national flag (we would have done well if we had chosen

o living heart of mine, the symbol of a simple mule).

We differ on the words of the new anthem

(we would have done well to choose a song on the marriage of doves).

We differ on the duties of women

(we would have done well to choose a woman to run the security services).

We differ on proportions, public and private.

We differ on everything. We have one aim: to continue to be.

After fulfilling this aim, we will have time for other choices.


He said to me, on his way to jail,

When I am released I will know that praise of nation

is like pouring scorn on nation-

a trade like any other!


A little of the infinite blue


to reduce the burden of our times

and cleanse the mud from this place right now


The spirit needs to improvise

and walk upon its silken soles

by my side, as hand in hand, two old friends

we share a crust of bread

and an old flask of wine

walking the path together,

then our days fork off into two separate paths:

I to the unknown, and she

sits squatting upon a high rock


[to a poet] Whenever the sunset eludes you

you are ensnared in the solitude of the gods.

Be the essence of your lost subject

and the subject of your lost essence. Be present in your absence


He finds time for sarcasm:

My telephone has stopped ringing.

My doorbell has also stopped ringing.

So how did you know

that I am not here?


He finds time for song:

Waiting for you, I cannot wait

I cannot read Dostoyevsky

nor listen to Umm Kalthum, Maria Callas or another.

Waiting for you, the hands of the watch go from right

to left

to a time without a place.

Waiting for you, I didnt wait for you.

I waited for eternity.


He asks her, What kind of flower is your favourite?

She says, The carnation. The black carnation.

He asks her, And where will you take me, with those black carnations?

She says, To the abyss of life within me.

She says, Further, further, further.


This siege will endure until the besiegers feel, like

the besieged

that anger

is an emotion like any other.


I dont love you. I dont hate you,

The prisoner said to the interrogator. My heart is full

of that which is of no concern to you. My heart is full of the aroma of sage.

My heart is innocent, radiant, brimming.

There is no time in the heart for tests. No.

I do not love you. Who are you that I may give my love to you?

Are you part of my being? Are you a coffee rendezvous?

Are you the wind of the flute, and a song, that I may love you?

I hate imprisonment. But I do not hate you.

Thus a prisoner said to the investigator. My feelings are not your concern.

My emotions are my own private night

my night which moves from bed to bed free of rhyme

and of double meanings!


We sat far from our destinies, like birds

which build their nests in cracks in statues

or in chimneys, or in tents

erected on the princes path at the time of the hunt


On my ruins the shadows grow green

and the wolf sleeps on a hybernating poem,

dreaming, like me, and like a guardian angel,

that life is pure and free of label


Myths refuse to amend their patterns.

Perhaps they were struck by a crack in the hull;

perhaps their ships have been stranded on

a land without a people.

Thus the idealist was overcome by the realist.

But the ships will not change their mould.

Whenever an unpleasant reality crosses their path

they demolish it with a bulldozer.

The colour of their truth dictates the text: she is beautiful,

white, without blemish.


[to a semi-orientalist] Lets say things are the way you think they are -

that I am stupid, stupid, stupid

and that I cannot play golf

or understand high technology

nor can fly a plane!

Is that why you have ransomed my life to create yours?

If you were another - if I were another

we would have been a couple of friends who confessed our need for folly

But the fool, like Shylock the merchant,

consists of heart, and bread, and two frightened eyes


Under siege, time becomes a location

solidified eternally

Under siege, place becomes a time

abandoned by past and future


This low, high land

this holy harlot

we do not pay much attention to the magic of these words

a cavity may become a vacuum in space

a contour in geography


The dead besiege me with every new day

and ask me, Where were you? Give back

to the lexicon all the words

you offered me

and let the sleepers sleep without phantoms in their dreams!

The dead teach me the lesson: there is no aesthetic beyond freedom


The dead point out to me: why search beyond the horizon

for the eternal virgins? We loved life

on earth, between the fig and the pine trees

but we couldnt find our way even there. We searched

until we gave life all we owned: the purple blood in our veins


The dead besiege me. Do not walk in the funeral

if you did not know me. I seek no compliments

from man nor beast


The dead warn me. Do not believe their rejoicing.

Listen instead to my dad as he looks at my photo crying.

How did you take my place, son, and jump ahead of me?

I should have gone first! I should have gone first!


The dead besiege me. I have only changed my place of abode and my furnishings.

The deer now walk on my bedrooms roof

and the moon warms the ceiling from the pain

thus putting an end to my pain

to put an end to my wailing.


and the moon warms the ceiling

to put an end to my wailing.


This siege will endure until we are truly persuaded

into choosing a harmless slavery, but

in total freedom!


To resist: that means to ensure the health

of heart and testicles, and that your ancient disease

is still alive and well in you

a disease called hope


in the remains of the dawn I walk outside of my own body

in the remains of the night I hear the footsteps of my own being


I raise my cup to those who drink with me

to an awakening to the beauty of the butterfly

in the long tunnel of this dark night


I raise my cup to those who drink with me

in the thick darkness of a night overflowing with crippled souls

I raise my cup to the apparition in my being


[to a reader] Dont trust the poem

She is the absentee daughter. She is neither an intuition

nor a surmise, but a sense of disaster


If love is crippled, I will heal it

with exercise and humour

and with separating the singer from the song


My friends are ever preparing a party for me-

a farewell party, and a comfortable grave in the shadow of the oak

together with a marble witness from the tombstone of time

But I seem to be first in attending their funerals.

Who has died today?


The siege is transforming me from a singer

to a sixth string on a five string violin


The deceased, daughter of

the deceased, who is herself daughter of the deceased, who is the deceaseds sister

The deceased resisters sister is related by marriage to the mother of the deceased, who is grandaughter of the deceaseds grandfather

and neighbour to the deceaseds uncle (etc. ..etc.)

No news worries the developed world,

for the time of barbarism has passed

and the victim is Joe Bloggs. Nobody knows his name,

and the tragedy, like the truth, is relative (etc. ..etc.)


Quiet, quiet, for the soldiers need

at this hour to listen to the songs

which the dead resisters had listened to, and have remained

like the smell of coffee, in their blood, fresh


Truce, truce. A time to test the teachings: can helicopters be turned into ploughshares?

We said to them: truce, truce, to examine intentions.

The flavour of peace may be absorbed by the soul.

Then we may compete for the love of life using poetic images.

They replied, Dont you know that peace begins with oneself,

if you wish to open the door to our citadel of truth?

So we said, And then?


Writing is a small ant which bites extinction.

Writing is a bloodless wound.


Our cups of coffee, and the birds, and the green trees

with the blue shade, and the sun leaping from wall

to wall like a doe

and the waters in the skies of infinite shapes, in what is left to us

of skyand other matters the memory of which has been put on hold

prove that this morning is strong and beautiful

and that we are guests of evermore


Ramallah - January 2002

Translated by Ramsis Amun


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