Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan is a novelist, editor, and the author of ten collections of poetry. He was born in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, and has lived in Jordan, Beirut, Damascus and Tunis. He returned to Palestine in 1994 and now lives in Ramallah.
His poetry awakens the spirits buried deep in the garden, in our hearts, in the past, present and future. His singing reminds us why we live and how, in the midst of war, despair, global changes.
What does poetry do? Nothing and everything, like air, water, soil, like birds, fish, trees, like love, spirit, our daily words … It lives with us, in and outside us, everywhere, all the time, and yet, we are too often oblivious of this gift. It’s a poet’s job to bring this gift out and back, this gift that makes us human again. And Mr. Zaqtan has done it. His poetry awakens the spirits buried deep in the garden, in our hearts, in the past, present and future. His singing reminds us why we live and how, in the midst of war, despair, global changes. His words turn dark into light, hatred into love, death into life. His magic leads us to the clearing where hope becomes possible, where healing begins across individuals, countries, races … and we are one with air, water, soil, birds, fish, trees … our daily words pregnant with beauty, and we begin to sing again till ‘ … the singer / and the song / are alike (Biography in Charcoal)’. This is Mr. Zaqtan’s only ‘profession’. It’s now also ours. About the translation: as a translator of poetry myself, I know the danger, frustration and the joy in the process of catching the fire from the original and delivering it through/into another language, another culture, another sentiment. Mr. Joudah delivered with such grace and power. My salute to Mr. Joudah, as translator to translator, as poet to poet, as doctor to doctor.
by Ghassan Zaqtan
When he comes down
or is seen coming down
when he reveals to us that he is coming down.
The waiting and silence
his entire lack
when he hearkens before the plants.
His caution when he comes down
like one postponed by a hush,
and by his being not “us”
and not “here”
He bought a flower
nothing more, a flower
that has no vase and leaves no will.
From the hill, he can spot the military checkpoint, the paratroopers,
he can spot the squatters, the mountain edges, and the only road
where their feet will leave a print in the rocks, mud, and water.
Losses also will appear from the hill
abandoned without effort.
And the fragility in shadow,
the Jewish man with a long mustache
who resembles the dead Arabs here.
From the mountain edges, all the caves will appear peaceful
and the road will seem as it were.
While he was coming down
the caves continued to stare
and blink in the cold.
Copyright © Translation 2012 by Fady Joudah
The enemy’s dead think mercilessly of me in their eternal sleep
while ghosts take to 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 there are unfinished letters and photos of
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 memorize you like that song in elementary school
the one I carry whole without errors
with my lisp and tilted head and dissonance
the little feet that stomp the concrete ground with fervor
the open hands that bang on the desks
All died in war, my friends and classmates…
and their little feet, their excited hands, remained
stomping the classroom floors, the dining tables and sidewalks,
The backs and shoulders of pedestrians…
Wherever I go
I hear them
I see them.
Copyright © 2012
Don’t open the window
don’t wake up
I beg you don’t wake up …
they were dancing on the garden grass
as if they were the garden’s motive
or its meditation
and they were screaming there
Beneath the light
their dust was coming apart
it had rained at night
Copyright © Translation 2012 by Fady Joudah