When We Saw You - Poem by Khaled Juma
I wanted to knock on your door
To drop a casual greeting, and leave
I would have, perhaps, talked to you a little
I would have had a bit of water
I would have pretended I was just passing by the neighborhood.
And while you wait for serious talk,
I would have been preoccupied with the fur of your blond cat
My eyes would have been fixed on the open door
And on your picture all over the wall
I would have, maybe, taken a risk and asked you out
And a thousand other maybes
But I went on my way
Like any passerby
And my hands did not touch the wood of your door.
Like any child who did not go past the end of the street,
I thought the first curve on the road was America
And that the hidden side of the neighbors' house
Was Cairo; where AbdulHalim sings
And when the soldiers came on behalf of the State,
To change the shape of our house into a street,
I only knew, then, that armies
Do not like geography.
Weren't you made of wheat in the past summer?
Did you not fret the season's doves picking your body grain by grain?
We could bear you turning into a mystic never silent nightingale
We got used to you becoming a horse in a legend
And a year after, we said: it's alright, you could come as a silver cloud
But what we did not and will not ever bear
Is you, coming just as you are
Merely, a sad man.
When We Saw You
When we saw you breaking your flutes
And laughed at your insanity
And did not save the last of reeds from your hands
Reeds no longer grew on the valley's hedge
The bird with a thousand colors vanished from the horizon
And the horizon, vanished too
And since about a century
We've been begging for a tune that was in between our hands
And you'd see us and laugh condescendingly
And you'd whistle a difficult tune
That we could not keep up with
Although we'd heard it
More than our own names
By chance, we survived
Our first love stories,
When we had thought our heart would break
We survived a war,
That ate our childhood and our children
We survived a time that descended, suddenly,
From a cloud to a branch near a window
Dear God, why did we survive?
His death was followed by a lot of options;
That he becomes a pomegranate tree, or a song
Or a letter in a tale
Yet; [and it was an option]
He chose not to come back to life
Had you given me another language,
Had you raised me differently,
And told me life was to be taken by force,
I would have turned out different from what I am;
And being angry when pigeons eat all the crumbs before the birds arrive
I would have been something else
Happy, and gratified
But you, father,
You said: be golden, even if the whole world was of steel
And thus, you aggrieved me.
I packed my fear for you on the shelf hidden from curious eyes
My fear that you'll die early, so the life of songs won't end
My fear that your heart will melt for a bird dazed by thirst
My fear for your arm, caressing the evening's braids with the heart-melting tenderness of a mother
My fear of your gasps straining your chest in your dream
My fear of your sugar, igniting jungles of reverie in little girls' schoolbooks
My fear of everything, for you.
My fear for everything, from you.
How do you burden me with all this fear, when you have all this kindness?
The soldier smiles, shoots and kills a boy walking by
And continues his chat with a dove that landed on the arm of his rifle
Telling her how difficult life is.
An old farmer passes by riding an old horse
The horse's trots disturb the soldier,
He shoots from top to bottom
Killing the horse and the rider
The dove startles and flies away
The soldier becomes sad, and almost cries
Then a woman passes by the fence…
Translated from Arabic by Nida Awine
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