Near the Shrine of Saint Naum
translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
I stood in the red church,
its tiny domes like buds
blossoming in stone,
I stood near the saint’s resting place
while a tourist laid her cheek on the tombstone
to hear his beating heart.
But I was no tourist,
and the saint left the room with me,
and the church the builders wrote in his memory
was nothing more
than a passing dream in his eternal sleep.
The tourists come in vain,
as do the believers.
قرب مرقد القدّيس ناعوم في مقدونيا
وَقَفْتُ في الكَنيسة الحَمْراء
بِقِبابِها الصَّغيرةِ مِثْلَ بَراعِمَ مُتَفَتّحةٍ في الحَجَر
وَقَفْتُ قُرْبَ مَرْقَدِ القِدّيس
السّائحةُ تَضَعُ خَدَّها على بَلاطَةِ الضَّريح لِتَسْمَعَ نَبْضَ قَلْبِه
لَسْتُ سائحاً مِثْلَها
،القِدّيسُ غادَرَ مَعي الحُجْرةَ
والكَنيسةُ التي كَتَبَها البَنّاؤون في ذِكْراه
كانت حُلُماً صَغيراً في رَقْدَتِه
عَبثاً يَصِلُ السّائحونَ
Copyright © 2022 by Najwan Darwish and Kareem James Abu-Zeid. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
“I think the title of this poem reveals all that I need to say about it: the place and the nature of that place, and also the fact that the sleeper in the shrine is a saint who is visited by tourists. Revelations have their concealed elements as well. I’m very skeptical about this habit (largely an American one) that poets have of talking about their poems at readings, as the poet becomes a kind of salesperson who talks about the product/poem before reading it. Would poetry readers truly care if I said that this poem resists holiness as authority and tries to suggest something more humanized? When a poet talks about their text, no matter what they say, it can be enough to ruin it—and it appears I’ve managed to do this in the lines above.”
—Najwan Darwish, translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid