From the Editors
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At the Station of a Train
Which Fell Off the Map
(March 13, 1941 - August 9, 2008)
Grass, dry air, thorns, and cactus on the tracks
There, the shape of the object in the absurdity of non-shape is chewing its own shadow
There is nothingness there, tied and surrounded by its opposite
Two doves flying over the roof of an abandoned room at the station
The station is like a tattoo which has dissolved into the body of the place
There are also two thin cypresses, like two long needles
embroidering a lime-yellow cloudand there is a tourist photographing two scenes.
The first: the sun lying down on the bed of the sea
The second: the wooden bench without the traveler’s sack
(The hypocritical heavenly gold is bored of its own solidity)
I stood at the station, not to wait for the train
or for my hidden feelings in the aesthetics of some distant object
but to know how the sea went mad and how the place broke like a porcelain jar
to know when I was born, where I lived,
how birds migrated South or North
Is what is left of me still enough for the light imaginary to triumph
over the decay of the real?
Is my gazelle still pregnant?
(We have aged. We have so aged and the road to the sky is long)
The train moved like a peaceful snake from Syria to Egypt
It’s whistling hid the hoarse bleating of goats from the wolves’ voracity
as if it was a mythical time to tame the wolves to befriend us.
Its smoke billowed over the fire in the villages
which were blossoming like trees.
(Life is self-evident and our homes, like our hearts, have open doors)
We were kind and naïve. We said: The land, our land
is the heart of the map and will not be afflicted by any external ailment.
The sky is generous with us and we rarely speak classical Arabic:
At prayer time and on the night of al-Qadr.
Our present converses with us: “We live together.”
Our past entertains us: “If you need me, I will return.”
We were kind and dreamy
so we did not see tomorrow stealing its prey, the past, and departing.
(Just a second ago our present was growing wheat and gourds and dancing with the valley)
I stood at the station at sunset:
Are there still two women in one who is polishing her thigh with thunder?
Two mythical enemies-friends and twins on the roofs of the wind
One flirts and the other fights with me?
Has the shed blood ever broken a single sword so I can ask:
My first goddess is with me?
(I believed my old song to belie my reality)
The train was a wild ship docking . . . and carrying us
to the realistic cities of imagination
whenever we needed some innocent play with destinies.
The windows of the train have the status of the magical in the mundane:
Everything runs. Trees, thoughts, waves and towers run behind us.
The scent of lemons, the air and all things run.
So does the yearning for an ambiguous distant. The heart runs.
(Everything was concordant and discordant)
I stood at the station
I was abandoned like the time attendant’s room in that station.
I was a robbed man looking at his coffers and asking himself:
Was that field, that treasure, mine?
Was this lapis lazuli, wet with humidity and night dew, mine?
Was I, one day, the butterfly’s student in fragility and boldness at times,
and her colleague in metaphor at others?
Was I, once, mine? Does memory fall sick with me and have a fever?
(I see my trace on a stone and I think it’s my moon so I stand and recite:)
Another elegy and I will kill my memories by standing at the station.
I do not love this dry and forgotten grass now
This absurd despair, writing the biography of forgetfulness in this mercurial place.
I do love, as do the daisies on prophets’ graves.
I do not like my salvation through metaphor
even if the violin wants me to be an echo to myself.
I only love returning to my life so that my end can be a narrative for my beginning.
(Like the sound of bells: Time was broken right here)
I stood when my wound was sixty years old
I stood at the station not to wait for the train
or for the cheers of those returning from the south to grain spikes,
but to preserve the shore of olives and lemons in the history of my map.
Is this . . . all this for absence? And what is left of the crumbs of the unseen for me?
Did my ghost pass by and wave from a distance, and disappear?
Did I ask it: Is it whenever the stranger smiles and greets us that we slaughter a gazelle?
(The echo fell from me like a pine cone)
Nothing guides me to myself except my intuition.
Two fugitive doves lay the letters of exile on my shoulders
and then fly at a pale height.
A tourist passes by and asks me: Can I photograph you to respect truth?
I said: What does that mean?
She said: Can I photograph you as an extension of nature?
I said: Possible . . . everything is possible
Have a good evening and leave me alone with death . . . and myself!
(Here, truth has one lonely face and therefore . . . I will recite)
You are you even if you lose
You and I are two in the past and one tomorrow
The train passed by and we were not watchful
Get up intact and optimistic!
Do not wait for anyone except you over there
Here the train fell off the map half way on the coastal road
Fires consumed the heart of the map and then were put out by the late winter
We have aged, we have aged so much before returning to our first names!
(I say to the one who sees me through binoculars atop the watchtower: I do not see you. I do not see you)
I see my place, all of it, around me
I see myself in the place with all my parts and names
I see the palm trees correcting the errors in my classical Arabic
I see the habits of almond blossoms training my song for a sudden joy
I see my trace and follow it
I see my shadow and I pick it up from the valley
with the tweezers of a bereaved Canaanite woman
I see the invisible gravity of the full and complete beauty
that flows in the eternity of the hills. I do not see my sniper.
(I become a guest to myself)
There are the dead who light fires around their graves
There are the living who prepare dinner for their guest
There are enough words for metaphor to rise above events
Whenever the place is distressed, a copper moon lights it and expands it
I am a guest of myself. Its hospitality will embarrass and overjoy me
I will choke on words and words will choke on difficult tears
The dead will drink the mint of immortality with the living
and will not talk too much about resurrection.
(There is no train. No one will wait for the train)
Our country is the heart of the map
the heart pierced like a metal coin in the market
The last passenger from somewhere in Syria to Egypt did not return
to pay the sniper’s fee for his extra work, as the strangers expect
He did not return and did not carry his death and birth certificate with him
so that the scholars of resurrection would know his place in Paradise
We were such angels and fools when we believed the banners and horses
and believed that an eagle’s wing would lift us above!
(My sky is a thought, and earth is my favorite exile)
It’s just that I only trust my intuition.
For proofs there is impossible dialogue.
For genesis there are the lengthy interpretations of philosophers.
For my idea about my world there is a defect caused by departure.
For my eternal wound there is a tribunal without a neutral judge
Tired of truth, the judges tell me: It is just that traffic accidents are common.
The train fell off the map
And you were burned by past’s ember
It was not an invasion!
But I say: It’s just that I only trust my intuition.
I am still alive!
[Translated by Sinan Antoon from the Arabic original published May 15, 2008, in al-Quds al-Arabi . Previously published in Banipal 33 & MER (248)]
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What I thought it meant to be Aleppan turned out to be nothing but a cracked veneer. What we were had nothing to do with where we were from, but everything to do with recognizing the strength of our will to live.click | email | tweet
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