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Mahmoud Darwish

1941–2008

On March 13, 1941 Mahmoud Darwish was born in Al Birweh, Palestine, into a land-owning Sunni Muslim family. During the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, his village was destroyed and his family fled to Lebanon. They returned the following year, secretly re-entering Israel.

As a young man, Darwish faced house arrest and imprisonment for his political activism and for publicly reading his poetry. He joined the official Communist Party of Israel, the Rakah, in the 1960s. In 1970, he left for Russia, where he attended the University of Moscow for one year, and then moved to Cairo. He lived in exile for twenty-six years, between Beirut and Paris, until his return to Israel in 1996, after which he settled in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Considered Palestine's most eminent poet, Darwish published his first collection of poems, Leaves of Olives, in 1964, when he was 22. Since then, Darwish has published approximately thirty poetry and prose collections which have been translated into more than twenty-two languages.

Some of his more recent poetry titles include The Butterfly's Burden (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (2003), Stage of Siege (2002), The Adam of Two Edens (2001), Mural (2000), Bed of the Stranger (1999), Psalms (1995), Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (1994), and The Music of Human Flesh (1980).

Darwish was an editor for a Palestine Liberation Organization monthly journal and the director of the group's research center. In 1987 he was appointed to the PLO executive committee, and resigned in 1993 in opposition to the Oslo Agreement. He served as the editor-in-chief and founder of the literary review Al-Karmel, published out of the Sakakini Centre since 1997

About Darwish's work, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye has said, "Mahmoud Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link, and shine a brilliant light into the world's whole heart. What he speaks has been embraced by readers around the world—his in an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered."

His awards and honors include the Ibn Sina Prize, the Lenin Peace Prize, the 1969 Lotus prize from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers, France's Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal in 1997, the 2001 Prize for Cultural Freedom from the Lannan Foundation, the Moroccan Wissam of intellectual merit handed to him by King Mohammad VI of Morocco, and the USSR's Stalin Peace Prize.

Darwish died on August 9, 2008, in Houston, Texas, after complications from heart surgery.

By This Poet

5

I Belong There

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to 
   her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a 
   single word: Home.

In Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy . . . ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t believe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me . . . and I forgot, like you, to die.

A Noun Sentence

A noun sentence, no verb 
to it or in it: to the sea the scent of the bed 
after making love ... a salty perfume 
or a sour one. A noun sentence: my wounded joy 
like the sunset at your strange windows. 
My flower green like the phoenix. My heart exceeding 
my need, hesitant between two doors: 
entry a joke, and exit 
a labyrinth. Where is my shadow—my guide amid 
the crowdedness on the road to judgment day? And I 
as an ancient stone of two dark colors in the city wall, 
chestnut and black, a protruding insensitivity 
toward my visitors and the interpretation of shadows. Wishing 
for the present tense a foothold for walking behind me 
or ahead of me, barefoot. Where 
is my second road to the staircase of expanse? Where 
is futility? Where is the road to the road? 
And where are we, the marching on the footpath of the present 
tense, where are we? Our talk a predicate 
and a subject before the sea, and the elusive foam 
of speech the dots on the letters, 
wishing for the present tense a foothold 
on the pavement ...

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