And They Don’t Ask – Mahmoud Darwish

And they don’t ask: What comes after death? 

Though more intimate with the book of Paradise 

than with accounts of the earth, they’re preoccupied 

with another question: What shall we do 

before this death? Near to life, we live 

and we don’t – as if life were parceled out 

from a desert where the haggling gods of property 

settle their disputes. 

We live beside an ancient dust. 

Our lives burden the historian’s night: 

‘Though I make them disappear, they come back to me 

from absence.’ 

Our lives burden the artist: 

‘I draw them and become one of them, veiled in mist.’ 

Our lives burden the General: 

‘How can a ghost still bleed?’ 

We shall be what we want to be. And we want 

a bit of life, not for just anything – but to honor 

the resurrection after our death. 

Unintentionally, they speak the philosopher’s words: 

‘Death means nothing to us: if we are then he isn’t. 

Death means nothing to us: if he is then we are not.’ 

And they have rearranged their dreams 

and sleep standing. 

And We Have Countries – Mahmoud Darwish

And we have countries without borders, like our idea

 of the unknown, narrow and wide – countries whose maps 

narrow to a gray tunnel as we walk in them and cry out 

in their labyrinths: ‘And still we love you.’ 

Our love is an inherited disease. Countries that grow 

by tossing us into the unknown. Their willows 

and portrayals grow, their grasses and blue mountains. 

A lake widens north of the soul. Wheat spikes 

spring up south of the soul. The lemon shines like a lamp 

in an emigrant’s night. Geography emits sacred texts. 

And the ascending chain of hills reaches higher 

and higher. The exile tells himself: ‘If I were a bird 

I would burn my wings.’ The smells of autumn 

become the image of one I love, soft rain seeps 

into the dry heart and imagination opens to its source 

and becomes reality’s terrain, the only true place. 

Everything distant becomes rural and primitive, 

as if the earth were still gathering itself to meet Adam 

descending from his paradise. I say: These are the countries 

that bear us…so when were we born? 

Did Adam take two wives? Or will we be born again 

to forget sin?