Four Poems

    By Ghassan Zaqtan

    1. BLACK HORSES

    The enemy’s dead think of me in their eternal sleep mercilessly
    while the ghosts take the stairs and house corners
    the ghosts that I picked off the road and gathered like necklaces
    from others’ necks and sins.

    Sin goes to the neck…there I raise my ghosts, feed them
    and they swim like black horses in my sleep.

    With the energy of a dead person the last Blues song rises
    while I think of jealousy
    the door is a slit open and breath enters through the cracks, the river’s
    respiration, the drunks,
    and the woman who wakes to her past in the public garden…

    and when I fall asleep
    I find a horse grazing grass
    whenever I fall asleep
    a horse comes to graze my dreams.

    On my desk in Ramallah unfinished letters and photos of old friends,
    a poetry manuscript of a young man from Gaza, a sand hourglass,
    and poem beginnings that flap like wings in my head.

    I want to memorise you like that song in elementary school
    the one I carry whole without errors
    my lisp and tilted head and dissonance

    the little feet that stomp the concrete ground with fervor
    the open hands that bang on desks…

    All died in war, my friends and classmates…
    and their little feet remained, and their excited hands, stomping
    the classroom floors, the dining tables and sidewalks,
    the backs and shoulders of pedestrians…
    and wherever I go
    I hear them
    I see them.

    2. A PILLOW

    Is there time left
    for me to say to her
    Good evening Mom
    I’m back
    with a bullet in my heart
    and that’s my pillow
    I want to rest?

    And Mom
    if war knocks
    say
    he’s taking a rest

    3. Out Of Habit

    The soldier the patrol forgot in the garden,
    the patrol the border guards forgot at the checkpoint,
    the checkpoint the occupation forgot at the doorstep,
    the occupation the politician forgot in our lives,
    the politician who was a soldier of the occupation.
    The Merkava the army forgot at the school,
    the army the war forgot in the city,
    the war the general forgot in the room,
    the general whom peace forgot in our sleep,
    the peace that was driving the Merkava.
    They still open fire at our heads,
    without orders,
    just like that,
    out of habit.

    4. You’re Not Alone in the Wilderness

    In Jabal Najmeh, by the woods, the wizard will stop me
    by a passage for boats with black masts
    where the dead sit before dawn in black garments and straw masks,
    a passage for the birds
    where white fog swims and gates open in the brush
    and where someone is talking down the slope
    and bells are heard and the rustles of flapping wings
    resemble the forest passing over the mounting and nicking the night!
    … and peasants, fishermen and hunters, and awestruck soldiers, Moabite,
    Assyrian, Kurd, Mamluk, Hebraic with claims
    from Egypt, Egyptians on golden chariots, nations
    from white islands, Persians with black turbans,
    and idolater-philosophers bending the reeds
    and Sufis seeking the root of ailment …
    the flapping of wings drags the forest toward the edges of darkness!
    In Jabal Najmeh, by the woods
    where the absentee’s prayer spreads piety’s rugs
    and the canyon is seen through to its limits,
    the furrowed sea scent cautiously passes by
    and the cracks are like a jinn’s harvest
    and the monks’ pleas glisten
    as I glimpse the ghosts of lepers sleeping on decrepit cypress
    In Jabal Najmeh, by the woods,
    I will hear a familiar old voice,
    my father’s voice throwing dice toward me
    Or Malek’s voice
    as he tows a blond horse behind him in his elegy
    Or the voice of Hussein Barghouthi
    laid to rest beneath almond trees
    as he instructed in the text

    And my voice:
    You’re not alone in the wilderness!

    Ghassan Zaqtan is a Palestinian poet and novelist. He was born in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, and has lived in Jordan, Beirut, Damascus, and Tunis. His book “Like a Straw Bird it Follows me” translated by Fady Joudah was awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize , 2013. Winner of Mahmoud Darwish Excellence Award (along with Lebanese Elias Khoury and American Alice Walker). His name appeared twice among the short-listed award winners of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in the years of 2014, 2016 / University of Oklahoma, perceived as the American Nobel Prize. In recognition of his achievement and contribution to Arabic and Palestinian literature, Ghassan Zaqtan was awarded the National Medal of Honour. He is a consultant for cultural policies in the Welfare Association and is a member of the executive board of the Mahmoud Darwish Foundation. Zaqtan writes a weekly column in the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper. He lives in Ramallah.

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