Print article

Spring Awakens
Spring awakens with the sound of death
thumping the ground,
and the killers rejoice with their long barrel
held firmly in their hands.
Birds are hunted in Malta in Spring
Translated by Antoine Cassar

If I Had a Motorboat
If I had a motorboat
I would take it out to sea
Perhaps some immigrants would chance
To pass in the vicinity…
I would give them all they needed
To set them on their way
Towards our united Europe
of solidarity…
I would tell them of some contacts
So that when they reach their goal
They would find my friends there waiting
Who to put them at their ease
Would instruct them in their language,
Maybe also some Maltese.
But if I should chance upon
a group of immigrants in fear
in a boat that’s not seaworthy
I would take them up with me,
sail them to their destination –
a good compass, a good engine –
what more should one need to sail
towards a silent bay and shore
and to land them amongst children
armed with swimbands, and canoes
skimming water just like angels,
and the ice cream kiosks you see
in the ads, and the sun that beams like Europe
full of solidarity.
If you read this little letter
of a most burning desire
and should chance upon a boat
which should meet what I require,
you could send me a small email
and I’m sure that the Good Lord
would know who it was who gave me
just the motorboat I need
and will hand them their reward.
Let me have that little craft
Which I’d take right out to sea
Perhaps some immigrants would chance
To pass in the vicinity…
I would give them all they needed
To set them on their way
Towards our united Europe
of solidarity…
Translated by Christine Grixti and Maria Grech Ganado

for Khaled, Noora, Najeh, Husain and Maher of El-Funoun
who danced in Malta*
On the bridge on the river Jordan they humiliate her
they think
and she freezes and turns green and calms down between her teeth
because she needs a stamp from them on a paper on a morning
to dance upon their vacant heads sitting in a stamp
in a stamped room.
Like Noora, beautiful.
A lovely smile like Khaled
this firm pressure
in his hands always silent
and keen.
He is telling how they are locked in a cell, standing,
how you pray that you’ll die rather than betray your own
how your broken back bursts in your head and your neck and your back
longs to lie on your back
but where? in a concrete coffin standing upright
for people who smile on their land.
Like you.
He is telling how armies close down halls
where they dance,
that amongst them are steps that could never take to
the rhythm;
he is telling how each dance, each chant, each painted picture
bursts them alive – this, this is life, this wounded dance,
this dark pirouette;
he is telling there is no place for soldiers with stars
and no place for
On the bridge on the river Jordan
he smiles a subversive city;
and they shame him more than usual
they think.
But he has a wife at home
and children,
and he carries the story everywhere,
in his eyes, his hands, his skin,
like the taste of olives,
like the scent of mint,
like thyme.
He has a history carefully archived;
a distinctive imprint;
his verbs and nouns interflow like a river,
like cadences and consonants,
like echoes and vowels.
When you wish to, come over, he says,
and I know that now it is also my home.
Noora waits for messages sent by her friends,
and she knows they will see them,
she wants them to read them,
they can’t raise any fear
by spying, outside,
inside, or on top,
who are they? who brought them?
of what use are these emails?
are they forms of amusement?
what churns in their guts while they turn them over
like lifeless chewing gum,
like savourless kisses?
These are words without memory,
graphemes with no narrative…
And Noora revives
as she thinks of her friends
though the eyes of her spies
are vacant.
Maher spins the girl in the wheelchair
with a laugh in the room lit up by the morning
by the dabke, by the turning of shoes with her friends
in a tightening circle;
And Najeh smiles in the wake of paces of his wife and his children,
of a village remote from the city of
Ramallah, in which they were born, they dance
with his mate Husain at the other end of the circle,
they close, they open every time he raises his hand.
And the centre’s the girl in the wheelchair,
Maher swaying to the beat
and to the girl in her chair and dancing wheels.
You tell me the story of Najeh’s wife,
the waters which burst after curfew that night,
the family voices ignored at the checkpoint,
the fear of damage, the frustrated anger,
the youths with their rifles obeying their superiors
as their superiors obey their superiors in a dark pyramid
of spleen.
You tell me of a night in 2002
afraid, disheartened,
of an adamant life in a spring that’s been wrecked.
You tell me of Yamen, of a labour that’s make-shift,
of week after week in an incubator
of a critical state
of months.
And you tell me a story
of a mother embroidering
on the porch of her home;
and the shots that came raining
without their explaining
and the distracted dance
of her daughter in trance
and her mother embroidered by guns.
“No pretence. No apology. No explanation.”
When you dance you look up at an opening sky;
you turn like a siren alight in an echoing night;
you defy the vacant eyes flitting through your Inbox.
Because your steps are mischievous,
taunting darkness and limits.
Everytime she crosses the bridge on the river
she expects to find unguarded events
waiting to be burst.
Because there’s a vacant night on the bridge,
and a birth announced in a stubborn ambulance.
There’s a dabke alight in a shattered cell,
a hold, already silent and bold;
there’s a soldier primed and a dance rehearsed;
and as soon as she crosses there’s a stage installed
and a packed hall.
Translated by Maria Grech Ganado
*Two of these stories were told by Omar Barghouti of El-Funoun in “Dancing Tragedies and Dreams” (The Daily Star, Lebanon, Wednesday, October 27, 2004)
“During the spring of 2002, when Ramallah was under lockdown, the members of el-Funoun decided to challenge the curfew and go to the studio to rehearse. They were preparing for their latest production, "Haifa, Beirut & Beyond." During this "illegal" rehearsal, a dancer's phone rang. A ringing phone during a rehearsal at the time was usually a bad omen (mobile phones are strictly forbidden during rehearsals, except during times of turmoil and insecurity, meaning most of the time). The dancer picked up his phone with trembling hands. The rest of the troupe froze, trying to interpret the news through his gestures. His pregnant wife was in early labor and all the roads from their village home to the city hospital were blocked by military barricades. He was stuck in Ramallah as his wife was about to give birth a few kilometers away. Feeling totally helpless, he cried. Though the dancer's relatives tried to drive his wife to a hospital, they were humiliated and threatened at two checkpoints, and turned back. She was forced to deliver at home with no medical supervision.
One of el-Funoun's choreographers was in the middle of making a dance about a massacre that took place during the nakba when she was interrupted with news of her mother's death. She was shot repeatedly by an Israeli soldier while she was embroidering on her front porch in Nablus. No pretence. No apology. No explanation. After a period of shock and mourning, the choreographer returned to finish her dance.”

Samwel, a year and a half later
Since, at all costs, you want the moon by day
and since I’m meant to grant your every wish,
I offer you a sun emerging from a cloud
but no! it’s “that” you want; you don’t want “this.”
And so, despite the day, you still wait for the moon
and I know, in my heart, it can’t appear.
I offer you some memory, a moon that’s full,
but you want it right now, identical.
Because, even by day, you want to grasp the moon;
I don’t know what to do to make you glad.
“There are days,” I explain. “And there are days…”
But you don’t want the whys and wherefores. You just
                                                            want “that!”
Translated by Maria Grech Ganado

Seas Swimming in Your Eyes
Samwel, 2 ½ years, Żejtun Beach            
You always want to walk beside the sea,
observe the depths, the blue from everywhere
and you persist in jumping above the edge,
although you’re old enough to have known fear.
A lover wishing to tease, with stone in hand
you want to see where it will sink, after it flies.
You long like it to meet the sea’s beginning,
to walk bewitched, seas swimming in your eyes.
The tremulous water has now usurped the moon,
distance and silence no longer keep you content.
There’s an entire sea splashing its waves around you,
and now new depths and the swish of a stone torment.
Translated by Maria Grech Ganado

Dormant Existence
I tread as slowly as I can,
in this dormant existence,
hoping that she will not notice me
silently leaving her room.
And I return without a sound,
wait for the room to empty,
so I myself can rest.
This existence needs quiet repose.
Translated by Antoine Cassar

Adrian Grima
What will you do when the night is over?
What will you do when the night is over
one more time
and daylight dawns again?
How will you tame the fire
which devours all that's hoarded inside you?
Who will pick the toxic ashes
before they clog your breath?
And who will blow away the stench
of a night drenched in hate?
When you return,
to your home by daylight,
they will rejoice to see
the hero of the twisted land
your friends and you created;
but someone, someday, is sure to ask*
and keep on asking,
and you’ll deny
and shake your deranged head,
and slide back to the night of fumes
which overcame the seething of your soul.
What will you do when deep inside
light creeps, if only for a while,
and you're consumed by moth balls?
August 2006
Translated from Maltese by Maria Grech Ganado
* It is said that Ratko Mladić‘s daughter Ana committed suicide when she learnt what her father was doing in Bosnia.[1]
 Adrian Grima

[1] Slavenka Drakulić, They Would Never Hurt a Fly. War Criminals on Trial in The Hague (London: Abacus, 2004) 149.