Black Horses

Fady Joudah translated from the Arabic written by Ghassan Zaqtan

copyright ©2012

The enemy’s dead think mercilessly of me in their eternal sleep
while ghosts take to the stairs and house corners
the ghosts that I picked off the road and gathered like necklaces
from others’ necks and sins.

Sin goes to the neck… there I raise my ghosts, feed them
and they swim like black horses in my sleep.

With the energy of a dead person the last blues song rises
while I think of jealousy
the door is a slit open and breath enters through the cracks, the river’s
respiration, the drunks
and the woman who wakes to her past in the public garden

and when I fall asleep
I find a horse grazing grass
whenever I fall asleep
a horse comes to graze my dreams.

On my desk in Ramallah there are unfinished letters and photos of
old friends,
a poetry manuscript of a young man from Gaza, a sand hourglass,
and poem beginnings that flap like wings in my head.

I want to memorize you like that song in elementary school
the one I carry whole without errors
with my lisp and tilted head and dissonance
the little feet that stomp the concrete ground with fervor
the open hands that bang on the desks

All died in war, my friends and classmates…
and their little feet, their excited hands, remained
stomping the classroom floors, the dining tables and sidewalks,
The backs and shoulders of pedestrians…
Wherever I go
I hear them
I see them.

Notes on the Poem

For the next few months, our Poem of the Week will highlight poetry in translation, featuring excerpts from our shortlisted and winning collections. Today we are sharing “Black Horses” by Fady Joudah, translated from the Arabic written by Ghassan Zaqtan from the collection Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (Yale University Press), the 2013 Griffin international winner. Joudah and Zaqtan have a longstanding collaboration. Of his encounter with the collection, Zaqtan writes, “A few years ago, I came across what would eventually make up half of Ghassan Zaqtan's tenth and most recent poetry collection, Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, in Al-Karmel, the international quarterly literary journal that Mahmoud Darwish edited for more than two decades…. I was so taken by the long poem that I still remember clearly the sense of having encountered one of the finest poems I have read: its private and collective enunciation, versatile diction, adjacency of classical and modern aesthetics, narrative and lyric, its insistence on dispelling dimensions of time and place in search of new language where what is learned is constantly destabilized.” (from Fady Joudah on Ghassan Zaqtan, in Asymptote)

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