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May 2024 Issue [Readings]

To Be Born in Beit Jala

From Strangers in Light Coats: Selected Poems, 2014–2020, which was published in November by Seagull Books. Translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger.

I was born into the Christian households of Beit Jala,
the spacious stone homes
over the olive presses
where in autumn the heavy millstones turn
and the Arab women cross themselves
as the oil gushes down the runnels and the deep odor curls
                  beneath the arches, beneath the decades.

I was born among women
into the stream of hymns,
     when Sundays had the scent of mint tea
         on the Muslim women’s balconies,
and between the robes of women fasting and virtue’s palisades.
The gift of patience clung to me,
and the bird thoughts which they store beneath their pillows,
and the joyful dispositions that they set loose
into the close air of the villages of the south.

I was born in summer. I bore
the Arab name of a Syrian born in Alawite villages far away
     in the mists of the north.
I would climb with it on my shoulder like a bird,
and descend with it following like a shadow,
and when I slept it would enter my dreams as Me,
which, when I noticed it, would lead me.
I walk after my name and I call to it, and Me turns, nervously.
It was murdered in winter and I was born in summer.
It is my name, which I work with to this day.
I took from it
     the miracles of loss
     and the courage of one who does not know,
     and without meaning to I woke it.

I was born at midday,
     peach pickers among the vines.


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