Five Poems

Ashur Etwebi


For thirty years I couldn’t cross two steps
from the public square

Or share the parting dance of the homeless
For thirty years I did not understand the groans of God
I filled my hands with the snow of a gasping night

The policemen pointed rifles into faded faces 
They pointed to sacks of body parts

It was not language that boarded the train
It was not dreams that sang in the lantern’s song
No, no. It was not that

At noon
Shadows came down the slope and were gone. Men were gone. Women and children gone

At noon
Death came and another death and another . . .

Things You Can Hear

The road to the heart cannot be taken on a camel
The road to the heart cannot be taken on a dream

When dozy, many things can be heard:
the rolling of a football between children’s feet
the cracking of a pebble from the roof of a house 
the trembling of a bird’s wing migrating south
the sigh of an old woman, sitting in a porch of a grand house
the squeaking of a nest
the first blossoming of the apricot tree

From the window of the world:
I see the dark cover of night
the whistling of the guards
flowers across a riverbank
a man who follows me

under my pillow I keep a sun that, when it grows 
becomes younger and younger


I wish they took their animals with them.
I wish they took their fires with them.

Tawirghean refugees, a man and a woman,
their memories shine on the dead general’s chest.

My path doesn’t lead to you. Your path doesn’t lead to me.
I am three hot potatoes. You are a kiln boiling with words.

Inside their house there is a room for tears.
The window is just a window, 
but the hands of the dead are heavy with questions.

Crows throw our souls into a deep black hole.
A well without water is like a pulley without a thread.

Even officials rarely knock on doors. 
Their eyes long for farms like a blind man walking through the night.

To tell this story is like pulling a river from your pocket.
What are you waiting for? The post to arrive!

A Dog Hides Its Tail in the Darkness of Night

In my village, Etwebia, in the last drop of wine in the glass
I see the tree I planted in front of the guest room

I see its yellow flowers blossom in winter
where I used to sit with the red-chested bird
I drink my glass cold, the way I like it
and he takes peanuts from my hat the way he likes

Oh, my tree, my winter tree!
Oh, my Etwebia, captured by militias

I used to enjoy the pouring rain
I used to hear it falling through thirsty sand

Now, in a country ravaged by death, rain loses its sound
Drops tangle in blue, fall, fall, fall silent

A dog hides its tail in the darkness of night
The water rises high. The olive tree listens in

A House in the Wind

Fragile afternoon
a vast sea, vacant trees, a butterfly, and a grave

I am here, the villagers are here
Stories in foreign languages are here Broken tongues are here

I wish, I knew, I leaned on absence
I wish, I knew, the cricket frightened the maggot

I wish, I knew, words adrift and the coffee was light
I wish, I knew, eyes veiled and the bell was cursed

Boats of the poor
Made sails for the faces of refugees

only those who are scared
build houses in the wind

translated from the Arabic by Ashur Etwebi and James Byrne