Commemorating al-Nakba

We offer these heartrending poems from Mahmoud Darwish, the foremost Palestinian poet, in commemoration of the 64th anniversary of Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1948 that began the ethnic cleansing accompanying the creation of the state of Israel—policies of brutality and eventually apartheid that continue to this day.

With these poems we wish to acknowledge and honor the simple humanity that every Palestinian has been denied in some manner for the past 64 years of unrelenting destruction and oppression by the only so-called democracy in the Middle East, made ever more painful by the unconscionable silence of the international community at large.

We who have the presumption of freedom and basic human rights can only imagine how the Karameh hunger strikers profoundly capture and express the essence of the overarching experience of every Palestinian, no matter where they live.


I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…


I come from there and remember,
I was born like everyone is born, I have a mother
and a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends and a prison.
I have a wave that sea-gulls snatched away.
I have a view of my own and an extra blade of grass.
I have a moon past the peak of words.
I have the godsent food of birds and an olive tree beyond the kent of time.
I have traversed the land before swords turned bodies into banquets.
I come from there, I return the sky to its mother when for its mother
the sky cries, and I weep for a returning cloud to know me.
I have learned the words of blood-stained courts in order to break the rules.
I have learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one:

—Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Anton Shammas from “The Bed of the Stranger,”
Riad El-Rayyes Books, Beirut, 1999.

In another poem, Darwish asks, “Where should we go after the last frontiers, where should the birds fly after the last sky?” These words became the title of Edward Said’s book, After the Last Sky, in which he wrote:

“…The love of Palestine…gets perhaps its first major statement in al-Muqadasi, the tenth-century Arab-Palestinian geographer. Palestine, he says, ‘unites the joys of this world and of the other; whoever is of this world and aspires to the other, will in Palestine be able to feel the appeal of that other world; and whoever is of the other world will find in Palestine all the good of which this world is capable.'”

We pray that the words of this centuries-old geographer/poet may one day be a living reality, reflected in the ordinary lives of all Palestinians everywhere.



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