Art for Poems From Palestine.
Detail from a poster by Burhan Karkoutly, "Jerusalem is Ours and Victory is Ours," 1977 | Palestine Poster Project Archives

Poems From Palestine

Lyric dispatches

Detail from a poster by Burhan Karkoutly, "Jerusalem is Ours and Victory is Ours," 1977 | Palestine Poster Project Archives
w
o
r
d

f
a
c
t
o
r
y

In the coming weeks we will feature a series of poems from Palestine, curated by the poet and translator Fady Joudah. As the series continues, you’ll be able to scroll down to read all of the poems here, or click the links below to view them separately.

 

 


 

 

Dawn

By Rawan Hussin

 

Dawn broke on our heads.
Endings were cut down to size.
Our little ones’ feet
rapidly turned
toward the sky.
Time set itself aside
and places shut their eyes,
like a child with words
that gray behind her lids.
Ceilings tumbled
waterfalls of stone,
and under the rubble
the last perceived image
hangs: a final painting
sculpted on our faces.
Alone we grow old tonight,
weave hours and wear them,
gobble the terror that runs
down our kids’ mouths.
Who will devour
our rusted lips?

                                        —Gaza

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

How I Kill Soldiers

By Ahlam Bsharat

 

Colonial soldiers,
what have they been doing
to my poetry all these years
when I could have easily killed them
in my poems
as they’ve killed my family
outside poetry?

Poetry was my chance
to settle the score with killers,
but I let them age outdoors,
and I want them to know decay
in their lives, their faces to wrinkle,
their smiles to thin out,
and their weapons to hunch over.

So if you, dear readers, see a soldier
taking a stroll in my poem,
trust that I have left him to his fate
as I leave a criminal
to his many remaining years,
they will execute him.

And his ears will execute him
as he listens to me reciting my poem
to grieving families,
he won’t be able to slink out
of my book or the reading hall
as the seated audience stares at him.

You will not be consoled,
soldier, you will not,
not even as you exit
my poetry event
with slumped shoulders
and pockets full of dead bullets.

Even if your hand,
tremulous as it is
from so much murder,
fidgeted with the bullets,
you will not
produce more
than a dead sound.

 

                                        —Ramallah

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

Specific Details

By Hosam Maarouf

 

Drowning in the time allotted for truce,
we manufacture spare hearts
in case we lose the hearts each of us has.
We’re uncertain of life’s worth
on the slipping edge,
yet it seems hope can’t be shelled all at once.
The minute details of war,
poison gas we can’t thwart
from settling our blood,
can’t even grab fear to toss it whole
outside our flesh. Dear God,
anxiety’s beat within us is louder
than a proximal bomb, but tell me
how will you convince the world
that the forest has no drum?
Specific details
fix our feet in place
as the house runs and runs
leaving its stones (its children)
behind: body parts,
fragments in memory.

 

                                        —Gaza

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


Hand of War

By Hosam Maarouf

 

We hold war’s hand,
not so that it walks among us,
but it is death,
a bit tardy, we cajole it.

We hold war’s hand,
convinced that this is the last time
it waves catastrophe to us,
since the road is a futile wall,

and the country is searching
for a photograph
of collective sorrow.

 

                                        —Gaza

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

Not Blind

By Taghrid Abdelal

 

No it isn’t. But love
took one of my eyes for itself, love
had vision before birth, did
discuss with me the accuracy
of what transpires in lenses.

And then it went blind—slowly
soaked us up from behind a veil,
and we couldn’t see it.

A deaf air said to me
that borders believe
space is smaller than the world
since children draw Earth
smaller than their houses
and draw eyes bigger than their faces.

Here love failed to find its eyes,
borrowed my lips
for better form.

Love, why don’t you stay as you are,
without official title,
subsistent on whoever desires you
for five minutes
before your suicide?

How cruel
you announce your sex
with paradise.

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

Belief

By Taghrid Abdelal

 

Not a main one,
but each time I erase it
I forget my hands over the objects
whose faith
compels their reappearance
on my knuckles.

You are another kind of belief.
It may dominate in the presence of the victim before me
or reach out to the executioner in my heart.
Each case the Monalisa
treats with a smile.

She didn’t fail in her search.
The test of her loss
matures in the belief of her existence.

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

Carob Tree

By Tariq Alarabi

 

I want to talk with you. It’s been a while
since anyone’s talked with me, no one around
says to me the things I say to you
when I’m sleepwalking.
For example, yesterday at 3AM the soldiers rained
tear gas bombs on us, ten workers
who crammed in a walk-in refrigerator for produce.
And the gas, like crude oil
that spilled into sea,
a forest fire that occupied all the air.

The carob tree was uprooted.
I still don’t know what you’re like
when you catch the flu.
Tomatoes are cheap this season
and the farmers are sad.
I’ve saved the best tomatoes for you.
As for the first thing I do when I wake up
I check the weather.
Weather enthusiasts in Palestine, like followers
of skincare products on Instagram,
are many.

And one more thing, since you’re not here:
do you like eggplant?

 

                                        —Nablus

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

Nakba

By Sheikha Hlewa

 

My mother is three years younger than Nakba.
But she doesn’t believe in great powers.
Twice a day she brings God down from his throne
then reconciles with him
through the mediation of the best
recorded Quranic recitations.
And she can’t bear meek women.
She never once mentioned Nakba.
Had Nakba been her neighbor,
my mom would’ve shamelessly chided her:
“I’m sick of the clothes on my back.”
And had Nakba been her older sister,
she would’ve courted her with a dish
of khubaizeh, but if her sister whined
too much, my mom would tell her: “Enough.
You’re boring holes in my brain. Maybe
we shouldn’t visit for a while?”
And had Nakba been an old friend,
my mom would tolerate her idiocy
until she died, then imprison her in a young picture
up on the wall of the departed,
a kind of cleansing ritual before she’d sit to watch
dubbed Turkish soap operas.
And had Nakba been an elderly Jewish woman
that my mom had to care for on Sabbath,
my mom would teasingly tell her
in cute Hebrew: “You hussy,
you still got a feel for it, don’t you?”
And had Nakba been younger than my mom,
she’d spit in her face and say:
“Rein in your kids, get’em inside,
you drifter.”

 

                                        —Haifa

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

Innocent Despair

By Jadal Al-qasem

 

When separate from you my blood will ache.
An unknown part of me will ache
and I’ll try to kill it. Or grab it.
The cell that misses you will throb in me,
and I won’t be able to spot it,
it changes position often,
drags out the game,
hurts my senses.
My eyesight will worsen,
my auditory range will dwindle,
and my nose, a hunting dog’s,
will search for your smell.
Whenever air touches my skin,
a fiend will pierce my body and flee.
My memory will hurt and eat my head,
and my head will vanish but not die.
My ache will regenerate my head.
I’ll grow sad, an invisible feeling,
a ruin, an infinite overflow of dread.
And the angry universe will collect itself
in a corner of my life to ask me:
What have you done with the scale of love?
How did you waste openness on detail?
The answer will hurt me as will silence.
Burning, I’ll go to my death
and demand my right
to a nap.

 

                                        —Ramallah

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


 

A Small Eternity

By Mourid Barghouti

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

 


Obeideh the Cow

By Ahlam Bsharat

 

We had a cow, Obeidah the cow.

She had big wide eyes
but the whole herd had big wide eyes.

She was dappled
but the rest of them were dappled.

She had two large udders
that daily gave two or three buckets of milk
but every other cow in the herd had full udders
my mom milked for the same amount.

Most of the time Obeidah had snot running down her nose
and that was disgusting
and pervasive in the herd we owned,
their nostrils were snot-filled.

And whenever we took her calf away from under her
Obeidah used to shed tears like human tears
and that was the case for the rest of the cows
whenever we took their calves away from them
they cried like humans might.

Obeidah used to suffer longing.
And would low a painful moo.
The whole herd could do this
and rip our heart cords apart, send us
into hiding under blankets
as if taking cover
from a night monster until daybreak.

At daybreak we’d declare our safe presence
by taking a piss out in the open
one after the other
a natural rites of passage
as the sun recited her hymns overhead.

Then into the plains we, kids, would go
unafraid of being lost
where we’d been in a previous life.
We knew even the smallest rocks,
the yellow snakes, their crossing time,

 

and in our mouths
we held a piece of bread each,
and in each hand a thin stick
off the corpse of the poppy plant
we used to call the bitter orange bush.

We would run brandishing our sticks
with Obeidah and the entire herd ahead of us

and alongside them
our dog, Camel.

 

                                        —Jiftlik

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


Reflection

By Asmaa Azaizeh

Yesterday, I handed all my poems to my publisher.
I feel like I handed him my head
and the words I speak from now on
will come out of his mouth.
What a disaster!

Disasters don’t show up one at a time.
They arrive in legions like a starving hoard.
A poet said this then died.
For example, half my family died
and after I celebrated the end of that year
my father died.

Since then I’ve let my poems go.
Every night poets get drunk beneath my window
and dictate wise poems to me.
I loathe wisdom.
I invite them in, slaughter them like fattened sheep
and dine on them,
but I still can’t get my voice back.
I glimpse it through the window, crucified
at the top of the mountain.

I’ve become a mere reflection
of a tree stripped naked in a puddle on the road.
Don’t step over me, shade me
from a sun that might pass overhead
and vaporize my trunk.
Maybe I will speak my peace.

I’ll tell you disasters might die out
if you stopped feeding them firewood,
but you won’t hear me,
and the mountain is made of kindling.

 

                                        —Dabbouria, Lower Galillee

 

Translated by Lena Tuffaha

 


A Contemporary Novel

By Maya Abu Al-Hayyat

 

            heeds no council, offers no raw
            solutions, is part and parcel of actions
            that were not taken.

           Finding out who the killer is
            is not the point of the murder
            in the opening scene.

For the third time my hands
alter the female protagonist
before the novel even begins.

In her palms his mysterious chiseled form is inspired.

The oracle saw him twice,
cautioned her against caution: “Be him,”
she told her when she noticed fear
in the lumen of narrative asking questions about him.

The female protagonist visits him in the mornings,
taps shyly on the window, sweeps the street with a glance.
(Did anyone see her?)

The plants on the windowsill lean in and bloom for him
then share with her
the waiting and anticipation.

He’s the protagonist who doesn’t play
his role well: he opens the door,
grumbles about a dream interrupted.

Something has prepared him for absence
but he prolongs her presence with a Rai song:
“I love you, woman.”

“He loves me,” she smiles to herself.
“She’s sweet,” he smiles to himself.

My hand takes off the woman’s face
and hangs it by the door: “Be good
while I’m gone. Don’t make a fuss
over a fleeting present. And if need be
put on a clown’s face and don’t work yourself up.”

The female protagonist doesn’t cry
as she shuts the door behind her.
She addresses her grievance to the narrators:

“There’s no time on which
my body leans that does not fall.
I don’t have what pleases critics.
What remains is chatter.”

 

                                        —Jerusalem 

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

 


My Enemies Defeated Me / For Nothing

By Ghassan Zaqtan

 

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


When He Reaches His Solitude in Full

By Ghassan Zaqtan

 

He closes the door, turns off the lights
except the hallway’s which leads to the fence
and lets him peek at the bougainvillea

and the branches of the sweet apple he planted last winter.  
Inside his room one candle
by the window will do.

A smokey candle and its faint glow
to reconsider the seating arrangement
of faces, bodies, names, and places
that appear through the smoke.

In endless hallways sighs stumble to reach him.
Voices and rooms so remote they almost went under.

But he’ll be there hands and all
to guide them out of the dark, with smoke for a path,
light for a sign, and the fence
that keeps everything in place, preserved
and well cared for.

That his memories will not rot or expire.
That they will suffice, be there waiting for him
when he reaches his solitude in full.

 

                                        —Zakariya/Beit Jala/Ramallah

 

Translated by Fady Joudah

You Might Also Enjoy

Further Reading

Heads Up: We recently updated our privacy policy to clarify how and why we collect personal data. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand this policy.