from Concerto Al-Quds*

Translated from Arabic by Khaled Mattawa

A. Questions
*Why is every atom of Palestine’s ash an open wound?
*How does this wound create life with the implements of death?
*Is Palestine’s history an autumn that has migrated beyond the seasons?
*Why does the face of humanity wrinkle in the language of Arab leaders? And why is this language clogged with trains that run only on dead-end tracks that never end? And why are those tracks built by leaders who wage battles on trees and water?


B. Letter to Ezekiel
Ezekiel, visionary and seer,
look again and again.
Ruin is still the daily bread of God’s earth. Will the prophecies also turn into a siege? Will tunnels be burrowed into their words? Will their visions splinter into missiles and bombs, into volcanoes of gas and phosphor? Is it true, dear Ezekiel, that you have befriended this dragon?
And I almost ask you, have you met Salome? Why is the beast of the ages masquerading as the angel of eternity? And that poor donkey foal in Matthew’s prophecy, why is it limping and falling?
And we, the concubine’s children, what must we do when the earth itself is a concubine in the grip of divine prophecies?
Iron gushes, rising and falling on the ladders of prayer.
Tumors and blubber are life’s Adam and her Eve. The day’s eyelashes burn and the minutes stone their origins.
Shall we save women’s bellies and stow away their embryos?
Shall we say to their breasts, “Find another universe”?
Will chains emerge in between our steps?
Are wombs graves from now on?

Ezekiel, dear seer,
nothing matches your prophecies except thunder.
Please allow me to shout out:
blood is spilling on thresholds, walls, and windows.
You know the hearts of these masters, these prophets and politicians. Tell me,
what do their hearts actually pump?
                           How do they soften and when, and what is their secret?”
A rose longs for no perfume but its own.
A bird never flies carrying its nest.
The earth is mercy—and dust is the first and the last.
Why do the books deceive?
                                          Why is every letter of the alphabet chained,
                                                                              every human mouth bridled?
Why can the sky not be seen except as
                                           owned, branded, tattooed, guarded, and walled?
Is it a stockyard for language?
Is it a storage room for the gold of prophecies?
As soon as your name is pronounced, all senses are extinguished.
No, you are not the dance, not the lover, not a woman at all.

Forgive me, Ezekiel, dear seer.


C. Considerations
—How can you face the rock of al-Quds stained with urine and excrement?
—Go, cleanse your feet with light, and repent.

“Fresh water and the pollen winds
issue from a rock below Bayt al-Maqdis.”

Prophecies slake the thirst of chaos
and toss their flowers in the streets
where the poets are wolves and mercenaries, and where we Arabs raid cities singing in unison:
         On one bed, we conquer a hotel;
         with one hotel, we make a continent.
         No matter that our feet rise
         higher than our prayers
         even the sun envies us.
         Praise to God who favored us!

         How wretched the likes of me—
                                                     and I am no Job,
                                                     I am no golden mouth.


D. Omega (Palestinian-Jewish)
How lovely! Palestine’s stars stroll, wearing Jerusalemite denim! How lovely that an Arab planet skates on top of the Wailing Wall wearing a perforated veil!
How lovely that African cocoa sates Palestine’s desires!
Meanwhile atomic clouds glide above, and the veil is the fatwa of the hour.

Where do they come from, these swift fists pummeling the face of the unknown?
Are they angels’ heads? From a nuclear hell? From the Day of Judgment? From the Holy Basin?
The Holy Basin—Holy Uterus—the star of the past has ovulated and the future was burrowed inside her.
The clouds whispered in the poet’s ear:
                           “Do not believe this.
                  How could God need rest?
                           A god of the throne?
                  Is there a throne that would fit him?
                           Will he need mattresses and cushions?
                  Does he have a colt to ride?
                  Does he take the land of one son
                           and give it to the other?”

“Nothing leads to wisdom except the parable of the tree,” nature tells the poet. “Not Adam’s tree. But a tree neither in heaven nor hell, ‘neither from the East, nor from the West.’”
“But beware,” nature goes on, “of that winged creature behind you. His lips are a pair of lambs, but he flings a knife or a hatchet with every word. You are right, dear poet, to doubt that they are human, those creatures that don Adamic heads on their shoulders.”
“I will throw a rope for you to climb, or to dance on, from the ends of the earth to the beginning of the sky, from the ends of the sky to the beginnings of the earth,” said the wilderness to the poet.
“And you will distill your fragrance, your poetry, from a plant that grows around women’s waistlines.” Only lying will be truthfulness then. And you will exclaim, and without surprise, and others will echo your words:
         What a slaughter the sky is!
         What rot the earth has become!
And others will echo you your words.


E. A Hymn Bracing for the End
Many gray hairs on my head,
but in my insides only the down of childhood.
Take away your alchemy, dear Poetry, raise it, discipline it, and teach it to mingle our bodies with our dreams;
how time can earn a place among our days and nights,
how minutes grunt in our veins like wild horses.
In your name, I flee myself to be myself,
and in your name I become joy and sadness in one inhale,
and I clamp my lips on your secrets.

The sky hangs like a rare painting in the earth’s museum,
and each is fighting to prove he alone stole it.
Up high, the sky’s seventh ceiling bucks and shudders, about to fall.
Why are harlots and pimps given another great role to play?
And in the name of the sky, must we awaken Job, Jeremiah, and Isaiah to display their afflictions again in al-Quds, and to confess how happy and free they once were?

Go on you way, dear Heaven.
Leave me a while to check on my limbs.


Al-Quds القدس is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Bayt al-Maqdis بيت ا لمقدس is the part of the city of al-Quds (Jerusalem) that contains the Masjid al-Aqsa (the al-Aqsa mosque) المسجد الأقصي and قبة الصخرة the Qubbat al-Sakhra shrine known as the Dome of the Rock.

Read an essay on “Concerto Al-Quds” by Khaled Mattawa here.

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