Art for My Enemies Defeated Me / For Nothing.
Detail from a 1977 cover of Palestinian Affairs magazine | Palestine Poster Project Archives

My Enemies Defeated Me / For Nothing

Detail from a 1977 cover of Palestinian Affairs magazine | Palestine Poster Project Archives


My enemies defeated me, led me downhill,
executed my horse, and made me watch.
My enemies defeated me, sold my mats, rugs,
and colored rosaries at the bazaar
to merchants and traders in shadows.
In the dark my friends betrayed me.
My children saw the hyena laugh outside our window.
At the tavern the wheat seller tricked me,
sold me wine that I could tell was spiked
when I held my glass to candlelight.
His plump wife kept filling my glass,
kept bending behind the barrels.
Then her scoundrel husband
steadied my wobbling to the room upstairs,
and the tax collectors rushed straight to my place,
opened the stable gates, let the mule, calves
and bull out, and mixed my flour with salt.
The dogs I’d fed from my plate fled,
left their barks on thorns and cactus,
and in my neighbor’s envy
and his two wolfish daughters.
For nothing I ploughed thirty years,
fed strangers who knocked at my door,
fed tax collectors, for nothing
I forgave my neighbors
their larcenies and snitching.
For nothing I carried water to their homes,
hay to their mules, wine to their tables, called them
by their clumsy family names, and meditated
under the branches of their foolish trees.
For nothing I left a lantern down the slope,
a covered bowl of milk
with the fat on top
at my doorstep.


                                        —Zakariya/Beit Jala/Ramallah


Translated by Fady Joudah



Read more from our series by Palestinian poets.

Ghassan Zaqtan is the author of several poetry collections and novellas, including The Silence that Remains (Copper Canyon Press), Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (Yale University Press), and Describing the Past (Seagull Books).

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