Art for A Small Eternity.
Detail from a 1975 cover of Palestinian Affairs magazine | Palestine Poster Project Archives

A Small Eternity

Detail from a 1975 cover of Palestinian Affairs magazine | Palestine Poster Project Archives
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Alone, soaring, my balcony a cloud
in the sky’s gentle hold,
I look out on a beach, a paradise
where the green (whispering, roaring)
has said all it has to say.
A green that almost glows with pistachio-colored edges.
A green that suckles, crawls,
grows into bright apricot
and enters an ornate rust
like an overripe pomegranate skin.
A greyish green escaping a blend of blue,
a pearly green that leans into copper,
a translucent grape-green that leans into
I don’t know what.
The forests rest in slopes that touch
the lake’s silence from all sides,
and the scents of flowers ascend
from the mountain’s foot toward me,
high as earth-bound birds.

The mountains look ancestral,
like our grandfathers who typically know their places,   
the mountains are epochs,
and if you look closely, they’re the body of time itself.
Adorned with boats, the lake’s water resembles
a granddaughter’s dress. Half-asleep she listens
to the mountains tell their magical stories
as the shy breeze floats
(through the villages around the water’s arc)
almost apologetic for the rustle of leaves.

And I, with two wings that happened suddenly,
soar overlooking this vastness,
and having become a bird perhaps,
I get to realize what a bird’s view is, for now.
I said this is a morning of tenderness
for those who observe it,
of scenes that grow tender for one another.
I would need a year
to learn the names of these trees,
plants, blooms, and birds,
a year to learn my name here.
Here, poetry is perfected,
so write as you desire, stranger,
the alphabet desires you here.

I contemplated my body, and it confused me:
under the buttons of this light shirt
there’s a present
like a knee that’s hit the marble,
and there’s a fearsome past 
like a wolf that thinks of a child
and insists that I call it a future. 
There are my people’s houses
that have swapped people,
and losses are arranged
like dictionaries on the shelves.

I shut my body, but my eyes stay open
like my mother’s window
which never watched her grandchildren
play in the garden—
though she did witness Yahweh’s Army play
with our days, and she lived the reversal of attributes,
the victim’s corruption from head to toe,
and the collapse of yearnings and roofs.

Under the buttons of this light shirt,
I continue the work of the living:  
I keep Radwa warm,
Majid stays late at my house,
and Umm Munif picks flowers from her garden
as she waits for Munif.  
Here we are walking together in the mountains’ morning,
we talk and listen, tire, slow down, rest, rush,
rage and forgive,
we forget, get lost a little, ask for directions,
recite one of Al-Mutanabbi’s lines,
and laugh at a joke that merges with our tears.

Can I change death’s mind and convince it of its failure?
Can death believe I’m walking with my departed’s feet?
Because my steps are their steps,
and my eyes are their eyes,
and this poem is their listening.
Do I convince death that they’re happening to me now
like salvation or an embrace?
They’re happening to me now
so that together we may bear
the burden of this unbearable beauty,
a small eternity surprises us
in this instant indeed: Tamim is about to take a photo
. . . and I say, Hold on a second:

I will fix Radwa’s collar,
draw Munif and my mother closer to me,
and move the tallest, my father and Majid, to the center.
Can death be persuaded that we’ve been resurrected whole,
slipped from its hands, and flown with the birds?
Above the lake, we became lake,
became mountains and shadows,
and sidewalk cafés.

Here I am banishing longing from my language.
Longing, the confession that breaks
place in two, the body in two, the self in two.
The riverbank is the river.
Without it, we don’t call it a river.
The mountains become mountains only with their valleys.
And the flowers, don’t they need stems to bloom?
Doesn’t a hilt need a sword to live?
Who can separate the bird from the possibilities of wings,
and the waves from the sea?
Who now can separate ship from water?
Who says spring is the absence of summer?
Who separates clouds from shades of white?
There’s no halo in the sky
without a moon at its heart.

Did I just say this
or did my departed improvise it?
I’m not sure,
but I don’t miss them—
they’re here
under the buttons of my light shirt.

 

 

Translated by Zeina Hashem Beck

Mourid Bargouthi (1944–2021) was a major Palestinian poet and author of the memoir I Saw Ramallah, which won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. 
 

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