So that I can speak of myself and to this time, and even further—so that I can converse with days gone by, I find nothing more fitting than the parable of migration. Maybe because migration is another name for exile made gentler by the alphabet. Maybe because migration is another name for passage. Maybe because it is another articulation to inaugurate a place and adopt it. Maybe because it is another embodiment of loss.
As if migration is another matter. Isn’t the word hejira the past tense of the name given to Ishmael’s mother in whom the descent of Abraham meets the seed of the Arabs? And you in flight are a leap, the seal whose name is the time of ignorance.
Greased by fumes called fatigue.
fatigue—a rose opening,
fatigue—a river flowing,
fatigue—a wing tempted by the horizon’s infinities,
the fatigue of a woman giving her firstborn into the hands of the world. And what surrounds you permeates your limbs, a liquid bitter and delightful. You feel as if you yourself are flowing within this substance and you ask yourself: How can I trickle down, what will be left of me?
In migration you see the world as an endless agglomeration, its teeth sharply honed. But you penetrate without your body being affected, even though it is soft and tender, your skin almost like silk, as the woman that loves you claims. This is how you can see history’s head chopped off, displayed before you in a cauldron or dangling from two hands you do not see. And you can see it floating over the water of a river whose mouth you do not know, whose sources you are unaware of. And it seems to you that you are following the banks of the river with footsteps that distinguish nothing but the distance separating them from the clamor.
In migration it pleases you to say: I want to take the form of a feather and make my second ink of water. You whisper to yourself: With this articulation I hand down another face, with this ink I erase what gives me pleasure to resume in another form.
In migration it becomes easy for you to write the dictionary of things—vegetation, rock, gravel, clouds, windows and the cracks thriving in the walls of being. And you trick yourself out, once in serpent skin, once in onion peel, once in pollen dust.
In migration you forget as if you are remembering and you remember as if you are forgetting. Drowned by that yearning, the comings and goings up and down the ladder of days left in your life on this planet earth—earth that only love can turn into an apple whose scent is imbibed bit by bit.
In migration you become the brother of things and their equal. You sense the spears sinking into your gut are nothing but a different air purifying you as you inhale and exhale. And it is then that you recognize yourself as remnants.
This migration of mine is long in place, enduring even longer within me, as if I do not know myself.
Once in flight I was intent to build a humble abode for the days of my past, not in the village my skin first touched soil—as a friend, the ancient poet put it—but in another place, I prefer not to say where. I sat myself down among them, I mean my days, that are scattered, gathered by force. And instead of staring at them and inquiring and scrutinizing them, they began looking at me and probing and searching and asking. As if they were waiting for something else, another person. Beginning then I started to understand my flight, and those roads no one takes lest they be tempted to track some shadow, some harvest. Roads that always retain ashes as if they were a fire just now dying out, as if the road were a body shattered in the scent of jasmine left over from childhood. There is a tangled binding between me and my flight. I cannot presume that “return” itself would ever fully appreciate the damages. I shall declare my life a home for my flight, and migration a home for my life. I shall tell migration: You are my expanse—you are vast.
First published in 1993 in For/Za Sarajevo, a special issue of Lusitania. Translation © 2003 by Ammiel Alcalay and Kamal Boullata. All rights reserved.