Four Poems

By Ghassan Zaqtan


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.


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
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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