From the translation by Sinan Antoon. It must be quoted at length:
The lotus-eaters did not enchant you with the honey taste of forgetfulness. They safely slipped from their myth while you and your kin entered the labyrinth unprepared. You know exactly what you left behind: a past, not recorded in songs about the new Trojans, of whom nothing is told save what their enemies relate. But they did not kidnap Helen and cause the war. They were kind and peaceful, their only crime was being born on slopes that were compared to the ladders of God. They were courageous without swords, spontaneous without rhetoric, so they were broken before the rolling tanks, displaced and scattered in the wind without losing their faith that one day history’s wound would heal.
So who are you on this journey? A Trojan poet who escaped the massacre in order to tell the story, or a mixture of that and a Greek who lost his way home? The enchantment of myth makes you susceptible to choosing metaphors, so take what fits the rise of song to another end, deep enough for the lost voice of the Trojan victim and for the failure of the Greeks’ victory to restore youth to their warrior, prematurely aged by the yoke of home and road.
Taut, like a string drawn between yesterday and tomorrow, you know all you have lost and left behind. You cannot see what lies ahead clearly. But a horizontal gravity thrusts you into the thick of tomorrow, to an enchanting unknown into an unfinished poem you are about to begin. Then it will take charge of its course, for what is created overpowers its creator, and the newborn overpowers the mother. They called you a dreamer when you said that a Trojan does not surrender. They interpreted your dreams even before you had them. You said: I stepped away in order to be near. They said: This is how the nostalgic speak, do you regret this journey? You said: I do not know, because I am still at the beginning of the road.
You had to choose the margin to know where you stand. The margin is a window looking out on the world. You are neither in it, nor outside it. The margin is a cell without walls. The margin is a personal camera that selects the images it wants from the scene, so that the king is not the king and David’s slingshot is nothing but Goliath’s weapon. Is it true that the first one to write his story will win the land of the story? But writing requires claws to carve into rock.
They called you a dreamer when you drew the boundaries of your dream, which grasped your devotion to remembering your old name that stalks you like a mute shadow. As for me, I went to the streets to chant and bleed, to chant for the fall of pretexts and reasons until I thought I was free, had freed myself, and had atoned for the sins I had not committed. You would look at me from the margin because the distance between us, as you had told me, was a sieve and a mirror. In the evening we met, as usual, and you embraced me and patted my shoulder saying: I will go with you tomorrow, because the margin contemplates but cannot act.
The road rises and falls, undulates, zigzags, extends, and branches off into countless roads that meet back at the beginning. How many times must we start from the beginning? We survived much death. We defeated forgetfulness and you said to me: We survive, but we do not triumph. I said to you: Survival is prey’s potential triumph over the hunter. We persevered and much blood flowed on the coasts and in the deserts. Much more blood than what the name needed for its identity, or what identity needed for its name.
We searched for our national flower and could not find anything better than anemones, which the Canaanites called ‘the lover’s wounds.’ We searched for our national bird and chose the Sunbird, because its resurrection from the ashes was a good omen, and to avoid any confusion with the ‘Phoenician’ brethren. We searched for our national flag and our pan-Arab horizon guided us to the verse that showered the four colors with descriptions contradicting what was being described, but that incited zeal.
And so much blood flowed that tracking blood, our blood, became the enemy’s reassuring guide, afraid of what he had done to us, not of what we might do to him. We, who have no existence in ‘the Promised Land,’ because the ghost of the murdered who haunted killer in both wakefulness and sleep, and the realm in-between, leaving him troubled and despondent. The insomniac screams: Have they not died yet? No, because the ghost reaches the age of being weaned, then comes adulthood, resistance, and return. Airplanes pursue the ghost in the air. Tanks pursue the ghost on land. Submarines pursue the ghost in the sea. The ghost grows up an occupies the killer’s consciousness until it drives him insane:
Israel’s new king sits on the balcony of a psychiatric institute, looking out on the remains of Dayr Yasin, and hallucinates: Here, here is the beginning of my miracle. Here I killed them and saw them dead. I saw and heard them die. Here I heard the wailing of human beasts, which did not disturb my music. From here, to terrify the rest of the holy land, I scattered their voices northward. From here I spread fright among what remains of the bipeds … to make them begin the journey into the wilderness. No, no, ‘wilderness’ is not the appropriate word for their fate. Wilderness is my specialty. Wilderness leads to guidance. Wilderness leads to return. Wilderness is my monopoly, just as God is. The king takes tranquilizers and remembers: Were it not for my heroism, for what I did to Dayr Yasin, my kingdom would not have been established. Were it not for absence, their absence, I would not be present. For them not to be, is for me to be. Whence did they emerge when I did not accept them as neighbors or slaves, woodchoppers or water carriers? The king clenches his glass of water nervously and crushes it. A trickle of blood flows from his hand and he starts to hallucinate: I did not see the blood of the ghost that my army is pursuing in Lebanon, yet I see my own blood! I killed them and saw them dead here, so how did they cheat death and disobey my orders, when I am the one who bestows life and death? I am the king, the new king of Israel. How have the dead become ghosts and how can ghosts defy me? Is this a dream or a nightmare? Is there no balcony in the world looking out on a different end? Take Dayr Yasin away from me again, take the cries of these ghosts away, or take me away from them. For I cannot apologize to them, nor do I want to! O Hiram, Hiram, king of Tyre, save me! My people have become angry with me. They say that my war is a waste, that killing the ghost is a waste, that my peace is a waste. O Hiram, Hiram, save me, even if with a false peace, to numb my mind, my heart, and my people, and be cured of my sorrows. Do you not know me? Do you now hear me, you son of a dog! No one listens to the king secluded in his house looking out on the scene of his first crime. When he goes out leaning on a cane to visit his wife’s grave, he does not speak to a soul. The ghost is his sole companion, his enemy who will not leave him. His enemy who returns in his delirium and guides him to their first encounter: You killed me right here and buried me in this pit. He cannot ward them off. He collapses: the murderer falls into the grave of the murdered!
I asked you: what does this mean? You said to me: Meaning might need another time to ripen in the earth’s salt. It might need another poet free of Trojans and Greeks, a poet who gazes into an abyss from above without falling in, and the abyss becomes a lake. As for now, a hand waving from afar is meaning enough: We are still alive and capable of amending the Greek text. The last chapter, the ending, has endless possibilities!
Figurative language, metonymy, metaphor, allusion
are the shadows of speech
The object’s image is neither like the object, nor its opposite
It is poetry’s ruse in naming
And I have other aims in metaphor
such as letting the song
go at its gentle pace
turning east and west
leaping from sky to valley
and treating its aches
with some irony