Two Poems

Asmaa Azaizeh

Do Not Believe Me Were I to Talk to You of War

War preoccupies me. But I’m ashamed to write about it. I flagellate my metaphors then implore them. Pain makes me depict a bullet, after which I recede into depicting an emotional slap. I disembowel the words and the harakiri victims awake, all of them, and disembowel me.
Do not believe me were I to talk to you of war, because when I spoke of blood, I was drinking coffee, when I spoke of graves, I was picking yellow daisies in Marj Ibn Amer, when I described the murderers, I was listening to my friends’ giggles, and when I wrote about a burnt theatre in Aleppo, I was standing before you in an air-conditioned one.
Do not believe me were I to talk to you of war. Because each time I bombarded the city streets in a poem, the concrete would recline, the lamps would sway towards it, and the prophets would pass by in peace.
Whenever I imagined my father’s skin flayed in it, I could still touch him afterwards, safe and sound, with an embrace. And whenever I heard my mother’s wailing, she would lull me to sleep with an old song, and I would sleep like a baby.

But dreams are open cheques
Signed by a Hourani woman whose features are unknown to me. Except that when my knife misses the lettuce leaf, I could smell the scent of the tribe of blood my grandfather had left in my body and hers.
Dreams are an open cheque, signed by Qasioun’s sons who whispered them to me during a reverie, and I couldn’t tell whence the mountain’s name had sprung without googling it.

The first cheque:
In an obscure crowd, an obscene clarity dawns on me.
In the midst of the exquisite engineering of geography’s tumult, a bullet quietly passes through me, at my lower back,
The crowd’s mystery grows and my ears’ windows are shut from within. The hole is as fresh as a spring, the blood is as warm as my mother’s voice in a song and as smooth as my father’s skin.

The second cheque:
I was besieged in the world’s holiest spot . . . Bullets rained down on me as did God’s words on the prophets . . .
I seized a stone and it melted in my hands. I overtook the soldiers and time overtook me.
And like a scared kitten, I cowered where a young Christ slumbered before carrying us on his back.

The third cheque:
Fear in the Levant.

Do not believe me when I talk to you of war
Because I’ve never heard a bullet shot besides the one my father threw from his double barreled gun into Marj Ibn Amer’s doves. And I’ve never smelled blood from a wound except for that which I smelled with my mother the first time I menstruated.
I do not have an account in the bank of wars, but a Hourani woman reassured me that my cheques are valid.

I Didn’t Believe I Would Ever Learn to Die

I didn’t believe I would ever learn to die
I wasn’t around when death was for free
But I was there when my maternal grandfather paid the price of cotton labourers’ sweat that made his Ottoman suit
The price of bare miles to the women of Bosnia
The price of their tears on the chests of their men before the war
The price of God’s banners
The price of the emperor’s frivolousness and long-term sickness

Balkan blood dripped on my school shirt
The teachers found vows of vengeance in my backpack and so fabricated chapters of history

I wasn’t around when death happened by chance, on the road
But I was there when my paternal grandfather paid the price of a signature at the bottom of a page, the price of surrendering his village at the bottom of the mountain, of taking the occupier’s hands off of it, the rebel’s taking his hands off of his waist. With the move of a pen, my grandfather’s ink numbed the slope. With the folding of a paper, the mountain folded history, with a handshake, he took the valley’s hand from the tank’s muzzle.
The almond trees died in the cardiac operation rooms, the wedding horses shrouded their eyes with henna and killed themselves.
No one cleansed my ethnicity. But the mountain’s spinal cord broke. And so broke my chance to ever ascend it together, to look at Christ’s footsteps on the lake and copy them.

I’m not the miracle
I didn’t walk on water and I didn’t heal myself of your love’s ailments
But it was my heart’s water which I learned to turn into asphalt whenever I remembered you
I learned to flee the lava that dripped from the mountains of your fear
And I didn’t learn death

I wasn’t there when death was a once-and-for-all lesson
Where the memory of the rocket betrayed it and so forgot the way
The bullet that never meant to cease being a pen
The massacre that passed by the main road and fired peace
When I was walking through the back road
Picking yellow daisies and watching wars drawn in cartoons

I didn’t believe I would ever learn to die
Until Beirut’s war drowned my mother’s lullaby in the well
The scent of invasions emanates from the cooking oven
The commando’s voice enters Um Kulthoum’s cassette
The skulls that paved the city road, they leave the poster hanging beside the bed and lull me, tapping my soft head like a long latmiya. So I stop crying, or they stop crying in it.

My heart grows in the well like a pomegranate tree, each time a branch is broken I climb another on my way to you. All of me breaks, so I become a nest. The birds look in the water and see the laughing face of a Bosnian, I look in it and see your face.

I am the child of tubes crossbred in a medical lab
I smelled the scent of dead horses in my father’s sperm
And I retreated
I was born in the seventh month
After I was beaten by Bosnians in my mother’s womb
And I retreated

I didn’t believe I would ever learn to die
Until the Hebron massacre was committed on the cake of my ninth birthday. I lit the candles on the carpets of Abraham’s house. They melted there alone and no one sang upon them. The birthday gifts fall into the well, the gifts fall, vows of vengeance, in my backpack
The vows would’ve dug my grave had they any hands
The almond trees would’ve stepped on it had they a spinal cord
The mountains would’ve praised it had they any poems
The Bosnian’s tears would’ve creviced its stones had they any beaks or claws
And I would’ve come out
To learn the first lesson
That the smashed skull in the poster is my skull
And that the blood on my shirt
Is my blood

translated from the Arabic by Yasmine Haj