Translated from Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
A Family Album
He stopped me at the banquet and said, "I'd rather be hanged with Omar al-Mukhtar than share the stage with these spies who speak in our name."
He stopped me and asked about the name of my neighborhood grocer when I was a child. Then he pulled a small album from his coat pocket and showed me pictures of nervous children, and told me they were mine.
He said I was supposed to come back years ago, and that my wife (he called her his daughter) had bravely raised the children in my absence.
(He also said that he was the neighborhood grocer, and that one of my nervous children tends the store every afternoon while he’s taking his nap.)
I was too embarrassed to ask him the names of my children. I was also too embarrassed to ask him the name of their mother. I acted like I’d just left the house that morning.
He sighed and gazed into the distance, like an actor in a soap opera, and told me not to tell anyone about what had transpired between us, or that he was the one who had put on this banquet—he preferred to play the role of the neighborhood grocer.
"I'd rather be hanged with Omar al-Mukhtar than stay here," he said, his eyes full of tears this time. Then he rushed out the door and left me alone at the banquet.
Alone, I flipped through his album, and looked at the faces of my children.
And I return to that town,
to that house,
to that room:
the bones of the dead are beneath me.
They know me,
though I do not know them.
Books and papers
I know them,
though they do not know me.
This dirt: the remains of those
who’ve been naturalized by death.
because one must return,
because the dead must rise again.
These poems appear in The Lifted Brow #35. Get your copy here.
Najwan Darwish is a renowned Palestinian poet whose work has been translated into fifteen languages. Nothing More to Lose is his first collection in English.