On Wishes (Mahmoud Darwish)

July 14, 2008

Don’t say to me:
     Would I were a seller of bread in Algiers
     That I might sing with a rebel.
Don’t say to me:
     Would I were a herdsman in the Yemen
     That I might sing to hte shudderings of time.
Don’t say to me:
     Would I were a cafe waiter in Havana
     That I might sing the victories of sorrowing women.
Don’t say to me:
     Would I worked as a young laborer in Aswan
     That I might sing to the rocks.

My friend,
The Nile will not flow into the Volga,
Nor the Congo or the Jordan into the Euphrates.
Each river has its source, its course, its life.
My friend, our land is not barren.
Each land has its time for being born.
Each dawn a date with a rebel.

* * *
Darwish’s poems are informed by his life long exile, beginning with his family’s flight from their Galileean village during the War of 1948. In his early thirties, he joined th PLO and became the editor of it’s scholarly journal. Despite his ongoing political involvement, Darwish has claimed, “I have never been a man of politics. I am a poet with a particular perspective.” That perspective finds its centering in what J.D. McClatchy has called a “plangent nostalgia,” which I take to mean a loud lament for his displaced homeland. While anger and frustrations over hypocrisy arise in many of his poems (the handful I’ve read anyway–e.g., “…if I were to become hungry / I shall eat the flesh of my usurper”), he seems to remain undeterred, almost hopeful (e.g., “You have your victories and we have ours, / We have a country where we see / Only the invisible”). In “On Wishes,” we hear not only the strength of one rooted to the ground under his feet (even if he cannot call that ground home), but the vision of one able to see new births, not in Havana or Yemen or Aswan, but among forgotten stones, in the very place one finds himself.

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