“Waiting for the North to reach a compass”

This piece by the unofficial Palestinian poet laureate seems especially topical right now – though I’m sure Mr. Darwish would protest that he, for one, would be quite happy if his poems did NOT so precisely satisfy the hoary definition of poetry as “news that stays news”!

by Mahmoud Darwish

And we, too, have the right to love the last days of autumn and ask:
Is there room in the field for a new autumn, so we may lie down like coals?
An autumn that blights its leaves with gold.
If only we were leaves on a fig tree, or even neglected meadow plants
that we may observe the seasons change!
If only we never said goodbye to the fundamentals
and questioned our fathers when they fled at knife point. May poetry and God’s name have mercy on us!
We have the right to warm the nights of beautiful women, and talk about
what might shorten the night of two strangers waiting for the North to reach the compass.
It’s autumn. We have the right to smell autumn’s fragrances and ask the night for a dream.
Does the dream, like the dreamers themselves, sicken? Autumn. Autumn.
Can a people be born on a guillotine?
We have the right to die any way we wish.
May the earth hide itself away in an ear of wheat!

translated by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché in Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (University of California Press, 2003). Arabic version originally appeared in Darwish’s Fewer Roses, 1986

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