Cactus Forever

Mahmoud Darwish

Where are you taking me, Father?

In the direction of the wind, my son

...Departing from the plain, where

Bonaparte’s soldiers have built a hill to

Observe the shadows over the old wall in Acre,

The father says to his son:  Do not be afraid. Do not

Fear the whisper of bullets.

Hug the ground in order to escape!

We shall escape and ascend upon a mountain in the north and

Return when the soldiers go back to their far away families

Who will live in our home after we leave, father?

It shall remain in the same condition as it was, my son.

He touches his key, like it is part

Of his body and he relaxes.

While they pass through a thorn fence, he told him:

Remember, my son,

Here, the English crucified your father

On cactus thorns

For two nights

and he never confessed.

When you grow older, my son

And recite to those who inherit rifles

An epic of blood on iron.

Why did you leave the horse alone?

—To be a companion to the house, my son

Homes die after their inhabitants leave.

Eternity opens its door from afar, for the

Vehicle of night.

Wild wolves howl at a scared moon.

And the father says to his son:

Be Brave

Be Brave like your grandfather and

Ascend the final hill of oak trees with me

My son, remember:  Here the Janissiary

Fell from the mule of war.

So stand up with me so we can go back.

When Father?

Tomorrow or maybe after two days.  my son.

And it was a arbitrary tomorrow

Chewing the wind

Behind them during long winter nights.

And Joshua’s army was building its fortress from the stones of the

Boy and his Father.

They, panting on the road to Qana:

“Here our prophet passed one day

Here he made water turn into wine.

He talked at length of love

My son remember tomorrow and

Remember the crusader fortress

Gnawed at by April’s grass

After the soldiers  have departed.”

The poem is from Mahmoud Darwish’s Why Have You Left The Horse Alone (London & Beirut: Riyad El-Rayes Books, 1995).

Translated, from the Arabic, by Nezar Andary

This poem appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 3, no. 14 (January 1997)

Copyright (c) 1997 by Al Jadid