“The Final City.” A Poem by Samer Abu Hawwash, translated by Huda Fakhreddine

“by your small bed / torn apart by monsters, / I stand naked, / stripped of myself / and of everything.”

May 24, 2024  By Samer Abu Hawwash and Huda Fakhreddine

The Final City
(to the soul of my soul)

In the ruins of this final city,
in this night of nights,
by your small bed
torn apart by monsters,
I stand naked,
stripped of myself
and of everything.

With these scarce hands I cradle you.
I embrace you and lift you up,
as far as my heart can reach.
How light you are now, my little one,
and how heavy this air.
How heavy this body
that once belonged to you.

I carry you,
but is this really you?
Can a man carry his soul
as a dead man carries his blood-stained shirt?
Is a man born from his own tears
as a tree is born from its leaves?
Is a grandfather born with his granddaughter
as a jasmine blossom is born with its scent?

I carry you, my little one,
as if I were carrying the stones,
the souls, the blood, the screams,
the shadows, the days,
the dead epochs,
the aborted mornings,
all at once,
as if I were carrying
all the rivers that dried up on your lips,
all the meadows that dispersed in your eyes,
all the mountains that turned to dust
under your feet that will never again
touch this scorched land.

I carry you, my little one.
Naked I stand between your little hands,
drowned in the bliss of your absent touch,
drenched in the light on your closed eyes,
as if I were now all the dead,
and you all the newborns.

I wish I knew, little one.
Did you feel pain in the moment?
Did a light flash for you in the barren sky?
Did a merciful angel embrace you?
Did your mother place her palm on your heart
may her own heart not burst?

As if all this never were…
If only I could lose myself
in the milk of your white cheeks.
For a few fleeting moments,
if I could melt in that little soft spot between your eyes.
I remember. It feels just like yesterday.
You’d drift into deep sleep
every time I lightly touched that spot.
Now I fear touching it,
lest you remain asleep forever.
It feels just like yesterday,
when all I had to do
was place my ear to your lips
to hear the distant springs
rippling in a single breath.
All I had to do was bring my breath to yours
and all the stray birds that had lost their way in my soul
would awaken.

On the long journey,
I used to hear you calling:
“Grandfather!” I didn’t understand,
You hadn’t yet learned to speak,
and still I heard you.
It was your voice,
and it echoed in everything,
in the slaughtered air,
in the moaning trees,
in the howling on the walls,
in the severed limbs,
in the feet searching for their lost steps amidst the rubble.

Your sweet voice called,
and I hurried after it,
Was it your voice
or the voices of all the children lost
in the mazes of the massacre?
Between one veil of smoke and another,
I glimpsed small, bloodied hands waving to me.
Perhaps they were comforting me,
perhaps they were calling me
to rescue them from the hell
of that black forest.

On the long journey to you,
I saw the caravans of my fleeing people,
my kin on the paths of disaster.
I remembered my father
and how he bore me for days
on his weary shoulders,
and how I carried him in my heart
for a thousand years.
Whenever longing for him surged within me,
I’d grasp a handful of soil, kiss it,
and learn something new about love,
patience and anguish.
That’s also how I learned to smile
each time words failed me.
For I know that my father remains
where I left him last
and that he is smiling back at me.

With the defeat of the weary
and the longing of the absent,
I carry you, my little one.
I embrace you to my chest.
You embrace me into my soul.
You gather my remains
scattered in the alleys and on the sidewalks.
You collect my blood
spilled on the edges of questions.
You gather my words
stale in the dusty books.
You gather my screams
fading in the deserts of this earth.
You gather the remains of my people
from the dark pits and you restore me,
whole, to myself.

Here we are now, you and I,
two orphaned children,
having become one
in the massacre.
I carry your soul,
and you carry my corpse,
on the outskirts of this city
that has become an abyss,
on the edge of this abyss,
that is the world.

Samer Abu Hawwash and Huda Fakhreddine
Samer Abu Hawwash is a Palestinian writer and translator. He was born in Lebanon to a Palestinian refugee family. He has published ten volumes of poetry, starting with his debut collection Life is Printed in New York (1997). He is also a prolific translator of English-language fiction and non-fiction. Among his notable translations are works by Charles Bukowski, Langston Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Yann Martel, Hanif Kureishi, Denis Johnson and Marilynne Robinson.

Huda Fakhreddine is a writer and translator. She is the author of Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition (Brill, 2015) and The Arabic Prose Poem: Poetic Theory and Practice (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) and the co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Poetry (Routledge, 2023). Her book of creative nonfiction titled Zaman saghir taht shams thaniya (A Small Time Under a Different Sun) was published by Dar al-Nahda, Beirut in 2019. She is the co-translator of Lighthouse for the Drowning (BOA editions, 2017), The Sky That Denied Me (University of Texas Press, 2020), Come Take a Gentle Stab (Seagull Books, 2021), and the translator of The Universe, All at Once (Seagull Books, forthcoming). Her translations of Arabic poems have appeared in World Literature Today, Protean Magazine, Mizna, Nimrod, ArabLit Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Asymptote among others. She is associate professor of Arabic literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

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