A Soldier Dreams Of White Lilies - Poem by Mahmoud Darwish
He dreams of white lilies,
an olive branch,
her breasts in evening blossom.
He dreams of a bird, he tells me,
of lemon flowers.
He does not intellectualize about his dream. He understands things as he
senses and smells them.
Homeland for him, he tells me, is to drink my mother's coffee,
to return at nightfall.
I asked him: and the land?
I don't know it, he said.
I don't feel it in my flesh and blood,
as they say in the poems.
Suddenly I saw it
as one sees a grocery store, a street, newspapers.
I asked him, do you love it?
My love is a picnic, he said,
a glass of wine, a love affair.
- Would you die for it?
All my attachment to the land is no more than a story or a fiery speech!
They taught me to love it, but I never felt it in my heart.
I never knew its roots and branches, or the scent of its grass.
- And what about its love? Did it burn like suns and desire?
He looked straight at me and said: I love it with my gun.
And by unearthing feasts in the garbage of the past
and a deaf-mute idol whose age and meaning are unknown.
He told me about the moment of departure, how his mother
silently wept when they led him to the front,
how her anguished voice gave birth to a new hope in his flesh
that doves might flock through the Ministry of War.
He drew on his cigarette. He said, as if fleeing from a swamp of blood,
I dreamt of white lilies, an olive branch, a bird embracing the dawn in a lemon tree.
- And what did you see?
- I saw what I did:
a blood-red boxthorn.
I blasted them in the sand…in their chests…in their bellies.
- How many did you kill?
- It's impossible to tell. I only got one medal.
Pained, I asked him to tell me about one of the dead.
He shifted in his seat, fiddled with the folded newspaper,
then said, as if breaking into song:
He collapsed like a tent on stones, embracing shattered planets.
His high forehead was crowned with blood. His chest was empty of medals.
He was not a well-trained fighter, but seemed instead to be a peasant, a
worker or a peddler.
Like a tent he collapsed and died, his arms stretched out like dry creek-beds.
When I searched his pockets for a name, I found two photographs, one of his
wife, the other of his daughter.
Did you feel sad? I asked.
Cutting me off, he said, Mahmoud, my friend,
sadness is a white bird that does not come near a battlefield.
Soldiers commit a sin when they feel sad.
I was there like a machine spitting hellfire and death,
turning space into a black bird.
He told me about his first love, and later, about distant streets,
about reactions to the war in the heroic radio and the press.
As he hid a cough in his handkerchief I asked him:
Shall we meet again?
Yes, but in a city far away.
When I filled his fourth glass, I asked jokingly:
Are you off? What about the homeland?
Give me a break, he replied.
I dream of white lilies, streets of song, a house of light.
I need a kind heart, not a bullet.
I need a bright day, not a mad, fascist moment of triumph.
I need a child to cherish a day of laughter, not a weapon of war.
I came to live for rising suns, not to witness their setting.
He said goodbye and went looking for white lilies,
a bird welcoming the dawn on an olive branch.
He understands things only as he senses and smells them.
Homeland for him, he said, is to drink my mother's coffee, to return safely, at nightfall.
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