Mahmoud Darwish has recently begun a diary: a daily record of reflections, observations, and intimate personal commentary on the ordinary life of Palestinians today. The following sections were among fourteen published in the Summer/Winter 2006 edition of Al Karmel, the Palestinian literary Journal Darwish edits.
I was there a month ago I was there a year ago I was there always, as if I had never been anywhere else In the year ’82 of the last century something happened to us, somewhat like what is happening to us now. We were besieged, we were killed and we held out against our share of hell’s offerings. Those of us who were killed do not look alike. Each martyr has his own features, his own way of standing, his own eyes, name and age. It is the killers who look alike, because hidden in the machines they are like a single performer who presses the electronic buttons of mechanical devices. He kills and disappears. He sees us; we do not see him. Not because he’s a ghost, but because he has a mask of lead without features, eyes, age or name. He is he. And he has chosen to have only one name: Enemy.
What Remains of life
If you were told: you’re going to die here this evening What would you do in the remaining time? Look at my watch Drink a glass of juice Munch an apple Watch an ant who has found what to eat Then look at my watch There’s still time to shave have a bath I say to myself: One needs one’s finery when about to write So I’ll wear the blue shirt I sit til noon alive at my desk I do not see the effect of color on words Whiteness whiteness whiteness I prepare my last lunch I pour out wine into two glasses For me and for the one who will come Unannounced Then I take a siesta in between two dreams Yet the noise of my snoring will wake me I look at my watch There is still time for reading I read a chapter of Dante and a section of al Mualaqa and I realize how my life Is about to leave me to stay with the living here And I do not question what will fill the gap Like this? Like this like this. Then what? I comb my hair and throw away the poem, this poem, in the wastepaper basket I am wearing the most chic Italian shirt. And in the company of Spanish violins I say farewell to myself and walk toward the cemetery.
I Wish I Were a Stone
I do not long for anything No yesterday passes No tomorrow arrives My today neither ebbs nor flows. Neither happens to me. I said I wish I were a stone Any stone to be lapped by water to become green or yellow to be put on a plinth in a room as a piece of sculpture or a demonstration of carving or a tool for extricating the necessary from what is absolutely not. I wish I were a stone then I could long for anything.
The mosquito, always feminine in this language, is more lethal than gossip. She not only sucks your blood but forces you into battle with absurdity, and, like fever she comes only when it’s dark. She zinns and dinns like a war plane that you hear after it’s hit its target. Your blood is the target. You turn on the light to spot her and she disappears into the top corner of your obsession. There she stays and rests on the wall, safe, peaceful, accepting. You try to kill her with your shoe; she pleads, escapes and cynically re-approaches. You try again and you lose. You curse her out loud, she doesn’t give a dam. You try sweetly to negotiate with her: you sleep, then I can sleep! You think you’ve convinced her, you turn off the light, you sleep. She, however, has sucked more of you blood, and resumes the dinn and the zinn announcing another air strike, and forcing you to fight on a second front with insomnia. Once again you turn on the light and try to fight them both, insomnia and she, by reading. She alights on the open page and you are furtively delighted for she has fallen into a trap. You snap the book shut, I’ve killed her . . . I’ve killed her! When you open the book to celebrate the victory, you find neither mosquito nor words. The pages are white, blank. The mosquito, always feminine in this language, is not a metaphor, she is an insect who loves your blood. She can smell it twenty miles away, and the only way to obtain a ceasefire with her is to change your blood group.
Copyright 2006 by Mahmoud Darwish. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2006 by Tania Tamari Nasir and John Berger. All rights reserved.