Truce with the Mongols by the Holm Oak Forest


هدنة مع المغول أمام غابة السنديان

محمود درويش ©


English Translation
Some creatures of holm oak have been standing long there on the hill… perhaps
the grass will rise from our bread toward them if we leave the place, and perhaps
the heavenly lapis will descend from them toward the shadow over the citadels.
But who will fill up our ceramics after us? Who will alter our enemies when they know
we are climbing the hill to praise god…
in creatures of holm oak?
Everything points to the absurdity of the wind, yet we don’t rise in vain.
Maybe this morning is not as heavy upon us as yesterday, we have
prolonged our stay before the sky and worshipped only what we have lost
of our worship. Maybe the earth is more spacious than its description. Maybe
this road is a way in with the wind…
to the forest of holm oak
The victims march on either side, say some final words then fall into
one world. Yet the eagle and the holm oak will conquer them. There must be
a truce, then, for the anemones in the plains to conceal the dead, and for us
to exchange some curses before we reach the hill. There must be
a human fatigue that changes those horses…
into creatures of holm oak
In the prairie, echo is one: an echo. And the sky on a stone
is an estrangement the birds hang up on this endless space, then fly…
And during the long wars, echo is one: a mother, a father, and a son
believed the horses behind the lakes will return tasseled with their final wish.
They brewed some coffee for their dreams to push away sleep…
amid the ghosts of holm oak
Each war teaches us to love nature more: after the siege
we care more for irises. We pick tenderness from almond trees
in March. We plant gardenia in marble and water our neighbors’ plants
when they’re out to hunt the gazelles. When will war set down its load
so we can loosen the waists of the women on the hill free…
of the knot of symbols in the holm oak?
If only our enemies would take our seats in myth, they’d learn
how much we love the pavement they detest… if they would take
the copper and lightning that are ours… we would take their silken boredom.
If only our enemies would read our letters twice or three times… and apologize
to the butterfly for their game of fire…
in the forest of holm oak
We have often desired peace for our lord in the heights… our lord in the books.
We have often desired peace for the wool weaver… for the child by the cavern
and for the lovers of life… for our enemies’ children in their shelters… for the Mongols
when they would retire to nights filled with their wives, when they would
leave the buds of our flowers… and leave us
and the leaves of holm oak
Wars teach us to taste the air and praise the water. How many
nights must we rejoice with chestnuts and dried chickpeas in our pockets?
Or shall we forget our talent in absorbing drizzle and ask: Were
those who died capable of not dying, capable of beginning their narrative here?
Perhaps… perhaps we are able to praise wine and raise a glass
to the widow of holm oak
Each heart that doesn’t respond to the flute here falls into
the spider trap. Be patient, be patient and you will hear echo’s reverberation
over the enemy’s horses, because the Mongols love our wine
and want to wear the skin of our wives at night, they want to take
the poets of the tribe prisoners
and cut down the holm oak
The Mongols want us to be as they want us to be,
a fistful of dust blowing to China or Persia. And they want us
to love all their songs so that the peace they want can take hold…
We will memorize their parables… we will forgive their deeds when they go
along with this evening to the wind of their fathers
past the song of holm oak
They did not come to win. The legend is not their legend. They descend
from the departure of horses to Asia’s ailing west, and they don’t know
that we would resist Ghazan-Arghun for a thousand years.
The legend is not his. Soon he will enter
the religion of his murdered to learn the speech of Quraish…
and the miracle of holm oak
Echo is one in the nights. And at night’s crest we tally
the stars on our lord’s chest, count the ages of our children, older by the year,
and the family goats under the clouds, and the Mongol dead, and our dead.
Echo is one in the nights: we will return one day, there must be
a Persian poet for this longing…
for the language of holm oak
Wars teach us to love detail: the shape of our door keys,
how to comb our wheat with eyelashes and walk lightly on our land,
how to cherish the hours before sunset over the zanzalakht…
And wars teach us to see god’s image in everything, and to bear
the burden of myths and take the beast out
of the story of holm oak
We will have a hearty laugh with the worms in our bread, and the worms
in the waters of war. We will hang up our black flags, if we win, on the laundry line
then knit them into socks… and as for song, it must be raised
in the funerals of our immortal heroes… and as for women slaves
of war, they must be freed, and there must be a rain
over the memory of holm oak
Beyond this evening we see what remains of the night. Soon
the free moon will drink the warrior’s tea under the trees.
One moon for all, for both sides of the trench, for us and them,
but do they have behind these mountains mud houses, tea, and a flute?
Do they have basil, like ours, to call back those who are heading toward death…
in the forest of holm oak?

… At last, we have climbed the hill. Here we are now rising
above the trunks of the story… new grass sprouts over our blood and theirs.
We will load our rifles with sweet basil and collar the necks of doves
with medals for those who have returned… so far
we have found no one to accept peace… we are not who we are
nor are the others themselves. The rifles are broken… and the doves fly far too far.
We found no one here…
we found no one…
we didn’t find the forest of holm oak!

(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009)

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