You're Not Alone in the Wilderness

Ghassan Zaqtan
Translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah

In Jabal Najmeh, by the woods, the wizard will stop me
by a passage for boats with black masts
where the dead sit before dawn in black garments and straw masks,
a passage for the birds
where white fog swims and gates open in the brush
and where someone is talking down the slope
and bells are heard and the rustles of flapping wings

resemble the forest passing over the mountain and nicking the night!

…and peasants, fishermen and hunters, and awestruck soldiers, Moabite,
Assyrian, Kurd, Mamluk, Hebraic with claims
from Egypt, Egyptians on golden chariots, nations
from white islands, Persians with black turbans,
and idolater-philosophers bending the reeds
and Sufis seeking the root of ailment…

the flapping of wings drags the forest towards the edges of darkness!

In Jabal Najmeh, by the woods
where the absentee’s prayer spreads piety’s rugs
and the canyon is seen through to its limits,
the furrowed sea scent cautiously passes by
and the cracks are like a jinn’s harvest
and the monks’ pleas glisten
as I glimpse the ghosts of lepers sleeping on decrepit cypress

In Jabal Najmeh, by the woods,
I will hear a familiar old voice,
my father’s voice throwing dice towards me

Or Malek’s voice
as he tows a blond horse behind him in his elegy

Or the voice of Hussein Barghouthi
laid to rest beneath almond trees
as he instructed in the text

And my voice:
You’re not alone in the wilderness!

 

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