Najwan Darwish

Translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

An Afternoon in Albaicín

The news of your death reached me
one sweltering afternoon
as I sat with friends on a peak of Albaicín.
They said, “your death.”
I said, “your life.”

A hand of snow emerges from the void
and lands a punch, every time.

We were passing the time talking
about East and West
when death came to a peak of Albaicín.
So death reaches Granada too
with a message on the phone.
It came on its black horse
and took a friend
while the hooves wounded the sunset
over Alhambra, that summer palace.
I did not try to stop it—
we Arabs don’t stop death,
we just want it to know the value
of the hand that slackens the reins.

We abstained from the sunset’s gold bullion,
the pearls of the wounds,
the virgin’s emerald gaze,
and sought comfort
one sweltering afternoon in Albaicín.

Your heart should be empty

Your heart should be empty
like the heart of Moses’ mother,
it should be light like a boat
that crosses a river in a painting.

Who are we that the last Canaanite goddess

Who are we that the last Canaanite goddess
died in our house?
Who are we to wash and bury her body?
Who are we to lay the path
for condolers gone astray?
Our house is simple (three rooms),
our kitchen small,
and we’d rather die ourselves
than be derelict
in the death of the last Canaanite goddess.

A Water Scene

Whether frightened or saying their farewells,
the birds take refuge in the horizon, leaving
land and sea behind, while you
take refuge in a notebook.

Born in Jerusalem in 1978, Najwan Darwish is an acclaimed Palestinian poet. His work has been translated into over 20 languages, and his 2014 book Nothing More to Lose was listed as one of NPR’s best books of the year.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid is a translator of poets and novelists from across the Arab world. His work has earned him an NEA translation grant (2018), PEN Center USA’s Translation Award (2017), and Poetry Magazine‘s translation prize (2014).

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