[Illustration: “Refugees” by Palestinian artisit Ibrahim Hijazy, 1996.]

by George El-Hage

Today, the seventh day of the month of Death, I decided to end our relationship. I decided to pack my suitcase and leave. Everything in our spring-like room I left for you: the velvet drapes, old books, notebooks of memories and red roses. All the silk pillows, and the ivory chairs, and the chandelier of carnations, the big bed in the other corner of the room remain for you. I took with me one bleeding suitcase which is my heart. It was so filled with surprise and sorrow that I did not have room for one little pencil. I left empty-handed except for an armful of ashes. I held dejection to my breast, the harvest of a full year of love. I embraced it with anguish and washed its forehead with dew from my eyes.

You are the city of slaughtered delight and sadness clothed in a cloak embellished with joy. I entered your wide gate through an opening in its breast, and I killed the crouching dragon beside the lake of the virgins. Cadmus and I killed him and I planted its teeth in the cave of despair by the edge of the forest of pelicans. I slaughtered the poisonous viper by the entrance to the Hall of Hearts with my fingernails and skinned it and made speckled shoes for you. I traveled with Sinbad to the valley of Diamonds and hunted the Rukh. I visited Hell with Odysseus and dove to the depths of the sea with Gilgamesh to search for the blue branch to offer to your immortal eyes, O Queen of the City, and City of Queens.

Today, the Ocean calls to me again. Blue sails wave to me in the distance from the seas’ horizon. In my eyes, the flocks of albatross grow new wings beckoning the sleeping dreams in them to a new adventure. Yesterday, when I harbored my ship by your black eyelashes, and my caravan rested in the garden of your big eyes, I set fire to my fleet with Tareq Bin Ziad. I sacrificed my she-camel with Umru al-Qais for a group of virgins dancing on the faraway shores of your oasis. I said to Musa Bin Nusair: “Come, in the name of God, let us settle this new land.”

I did not intend to leave you or to go to another land after I had found a family and home with you in the City of Peace. Neither did I anticipate that Kafur, the castrated one of Egypt, would return from the dead and wave the scepter of Mutanabbi in my face and drive me away. When they took you from me, virgin that I loved with all my heart, I declared war against them. On the right side of Hannibal the Great, I led the huge army against Rome- The Whore of History – I crossed the Alps’ frozen desert, I overcame the difficulties of Nature, I passed through the distances of hardship, yet I was powerless to overcome the barriers of hatred and ignorance and loathing in the hearts of your people, My lady.

I always knew my Kingdom was not of their world and that they would not be fit to be slaves in it. I knew that we would never meet. Never once have love and hatred met. Even though the desert enfolds the green oasis in its wrinkles, it knows they are not of one clay. In the world of love, adventure and fidelity, it matters not if the Hero is wealthy. The problem is not for his sweetheart to be the heiress of Palmyra’s throne. All that matters is that they are lovers. The world is shared by two – the lover and the poet. They love it from a distance; for joy and happiness. Never once did they consider owning it or selling it. Never once did the butterfly or the nightingale possess the flower garden or the lemon tree, for they are theirs from the beginning.

The birds of September carried to us the branch of peace while the world around us was drowning in its selfishness and materialism. We were not numbered among those who descended Mount Ararat. We have no need for sailing vessels when our hearts are doves carrying the glad-tidings of deliverance. From our love the ocean learned to love the shores which dreamt of happiness, and the moon learned to speak words of love to the silvery summer star.

Today I lost your face in the mists of death and your voice, which is the Cross of my Salvation. The whale threw me up from his belly with Jonah, and the waves carried me to a faraway, rocky, barren island, surrounded by an ocean of ashes. I stood before an angered Nature. I did not find a fig leaf to cover my bared soul. Your voice calls to me from there and my emotions quiver.

No, I did not eat the forbidden fruit nor did knowledge seduce me. Your love is my wine and my ink and the light of your eyes the essence of all books. But with Job it is written that I am destined to endure until God comes down clothed in a whirlwind and grants me an answer. Until that time, I will remain sure of my innocence and of the purity of your beautiful face. I will stay by its gate, knocking with my voice and screaming in the faces of those who sell love for money. I spit and throw stones in their mouths.

[Translated from the original Arabic by D. Maloof and George El-Hage.]