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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Record! and Psalm 137


I have decided that, as I share a lot of my own poetry here on my blog, I will also begin sharing some of the poems that I like to read and that influence me as I write.

The poem “Record!” (sometimes translated as “Write Down!” –in Arabic “Sajil!”) by the Palestinian poet  Mahmoud Darwish (1941 – 2008) is powerful and evocative.

Record!
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?

Record!
I am an Arab
Employed with fellow workers at a quarry
I have eight children
I get them bread
Garments and books
from the rocks
I do not supplicate charity at your doors
Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?

Record!
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
My roots
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before the grass grew

My father descends from the family of the plow
Not from a privileged class
And my grandfather was a farmer
Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Teaches me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me how to read
And my house is like a watchman’s hut
Made of branches and cane
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name without a title!

Record!
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!

Therefore!
Record on the top of the first page:
I do not hate people
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper’s flesh will be my food
Beware…
Beware…
Of my hunger
And my anger!

I cannot read this poem without thinking of a similar poem enshrined in the Hebrew / Christian Scriptures:

By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
    Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
    Happy shall they be who pay you back
    what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
    and dash them against the rock!

Anyone (Christian or Jewish) who defends psalm 137 as an honest and appropriate description of the legitimate grief and anger felt by the Jewish exile living in Babylon, but rejects and denies those emotions the Palestinian people today are either ignorantly inconsistent or willfully hypocritical. 


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