PQR: Poems, Quotes, Readings

Hooriyya's Teaching

by Mahmoud Darwish


One day I thought of leaving
a goldfinch perched on her hand and went to sleep.
All I had to do was fiddle with a vine branch
and she knew right away my wine glass was full.
If I fall asleep early
she sees my dream
and stays up to guard it.
One letter from me is enough
for her to know my address
in prison
has changed,
that my days hover around her,
that my days hover in front of her.


My mother counts my twenty fingers from afar.
She combs my hair with one of her golden curls.
She looks for foreign women in my underwear.
She mends my socks.
In spite of our wishes
I did not grow up at her hands.
She and I parted company at the marble slope.
Clouds waved goodbye to us
and to the goats that inherited the land.
Exile established two separate languages for us:
Slang for doves to understand and keep memory fresh,
and classical so I can interpret
shadows to their shadows.


I am still alive in your midst.
You did not tell me what a mother tells a sick boy.
I am sick because of the copper moon

above the Bedouin's tents.
Do you remember our migration route to Lebanon?
Where you forgot me in a sack of bread
(it was wheat bread).
I kept quiet so as not to wake the guards.
The scent of morning dew lifted me onto your shoulders.
O you, gazelle that lost both house and mate.


There is no time for sentimental talk around you.
You kneaded the whole afternoon with basil.
You baked the rooster's comb for sumac.
I know what breaks your heart pierced by a peacock.
Sinc the day you were expelled from Paradise a second time
our whole world changed,
our voices changed,
even the greeting between us fell
echoless, like a button falling on the sand.
Say Good Morning!
Say anything,
so that life may grant me its sweet delight.


She is Hagar's half sister.
She cries with the flutes
for the dead who do not die.
No cemeteries surround her tent
for her to know how heaven opens.
She does not see the desert behind my fingers
to view her garden on the face of a mirage,
so that times gone by urge her to requisite joy:
her father took off like a Circassian on a wedding horse,
her mother prepared the henna
for her husband's wife
and inspected her anklet
without shedding a tear.


We meet to bid farewell at the crossroads of speech.
For example, she tells me:
Marry any woman from among the foreigners
even more beautiful than girls from the neighborhood,
but never trust any woman other than me,
and don't always trust your memories.
Don't become incandescent in order to light up

your mother.
That's her task.
Don't long for sweet dates of dew.
Be as realistic as the sky.
Don't hanker for your grandfather's black cloak
or your grandmother's bribes.
Take off like a colt into the world
and be who you are
wherever you are.
Shoulder the burden of your heart
and then come back
if your country is really
big enough to be a country.


My mother illuminates Canaan's last stars

around my mirror
and throws her shawl across my last poem.

Darwish, Mahmoud. "Hooriyya's Teaching." Trans. Sinan Antoon. The Adam of Two Edens. Syracuse, NY: Jusoor / Syracuse University Press, 2000, p. 85-89.

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Last Update: August 29, 2003