America Poem by Dunya Mikhail


please don't ask me, America
I don't remember
on which street
with whom
or under which star
Don't ask me
I don't remember
the colours of the people
or their signatures
I don't remember if they had
our faces
and our dreams
if they were singing
or not
writing from the left or right
or not writing at all
sleeping in houses
on sidewalks
or in airports
making love or not making love
Please don't ask me, America
I don't remember their names
or their birthplaces
People are grass
They are born everywhere, America
Don't ask me . . .
I don't remember
what time it was
or what kind of weather
or flag
Don't ask me . . .
I don't remember
how long they walked under the sun
or how many died
I don't remember
the shapes of the boats
or the number of ports
. . . how many suitcases they carried
or left behind
if they came complaining
or without complaint
Stop your questioning, America
and offer your hand
to the tired
on the other shore
Offer it without questions
or waiting lists
What good is it to gain the whole world
if you lose the Soul, America?
Who said that the sky
would lose all of its stars
if night passed without answers?
America, leave your questionnaires to the river
and leave me to my lover
It has been a long time
we are two distant, rippling shores
and the river wriggles between us
'like a well-cooked fish'
It has been a long time, America
(longer than the stories of my grandmother in the evening)
and we are waiting for the signal
to throw our shell in the river
We know that the river is full
of shells; this last one
wouldn't matter
yet it matters to the shell
Why do you ask all these questions?
You want our fingerprints
in all languages
and I have become old
older than my father
He used to tell me in the evenings
when no trains ran:
One day, we will go to America,
One day, we will go
and sing a song
translated or not translated
at the Statue of Liberty
And now, America, now
I came to you, without my father
The dead ripen faster
than the Indian figs
but they never grow older, America
They come in shifts of shadow and light
in our dreams
and as shooting stars
or curve in rainbows
over the houses
we left
They sometimes get angry
if we keep them waiting a while . . .
What time is it now?
I am afraid I will receive
your registered mail, America
in this hour
which has no usefulness
so I would toy with the freedom
like a domesticated cat
I wouldn't know what else
to do with it
in this hour
which has no usefulness . . .
and my sweetheart
there, on the opposite shore
of the river
carries a flower for me
And I - as you know -
dislike faded flowers
I do like my sweetheart's handwriting
shining each day in the mail
I salvage it from among ad fliers
and special offers
Buy one Get One Free
and an urgent promotional announcement:
You will win a million dollars
if you subscribe to this magazine!
bills to be paid
in monthly instalments
I like my sweetheart's handwriting
though it gets shakier every day
We have a single picture
just one picture, America
I want it
I want that moment
forever out of reach
in the picture which I know
from every angle:
the circular moment of sky
Imagine, America:
if one of us drops out of the picture
and leaves the album full
of loneliness
or if life becomes
a camera
without film
Imagine, America!
Without a frame
the night will take us
the night
will take us
without a frame
we will shake the museums
forever from their sleep
fix our broken clocks
so we'll tick in the public squares
whenever the train
passes us by
we will bloom:
two leaves of a tree
we will try not to be
graceful in the greenness
and in time
we will tumble down like dancers
taken by the wind
to the places whose names
we'll have forgotten
we will be glad for the sake of the turtles
because they persist along their way
I'll look at your eyes
to see in your new wrinkles
the lines of our future dreams
As you will braid my gray hair
under rain
or sun
or moon
every hair will know
that nothing happens
every kiss a country
with a history
a geography
and a language
with joy and sadness
with war
and ruins
and holidays
and ticking clocks . . .
And when the pain in your neck returns, darling
You will not have time to complain
and won't be concerned
if it remains inside us
coy as snow
that won't melt
Tomorrow, darling
from the wooden box will come
the jingling sound of
two rings:
they have been shining for a long time
on two trembling hands,
by the absence.
the whiteness will expose
all its colours
as we welcome back what was lost
or concealed
in the whiteness
How should I know, America
which of the colours
was the most joyful
or assimilated
of them all?
How would I know, America?

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