Hoda Ablan



When he went away
I had nothing left of him
but myself


Barefoot, they run from their past
from hands waving behind a heavy wall
and trembling mothers who anoint themselves with a final tear
They dream
of garlands the earth will weave from the threads of their sweat . . .
and a road paved by God . . .
which no ghosts can close.


You are there, building a home
and I am here, demolishing a memory
Your home, which will be open to all
and my memory, which was open to your face.


I had a house
a bed of dreaming wood
some pain on the shelf
a memory faucet
embers to sear my heart
whenever the cold assailed it
and many chimneys
but I had no door
and no window.


Sometimes, at nightfall, I break down and cry
Then I resent my tears, which have illuminated the world
and extinguished me.


To my brother Najeeb

Whenever I return to the playground of the past
peering into its deceptive spaces
I see your shirt, but not you
your smile, but not you
your eyes, but not myself
I meet, in what I find of you, the longed-for twilight
of when we were together
on the field of our dreams
and the warm blanket of my mother's stories, embroidered with songs.
Whenever I till the soil of memory
I find you, a stalk of grain aflame with tears
night's fingers snatch at you
alone, you face the wind
throwing into it all you have left.
Whenever I leaf through the pages of our footsteps
I find you hiding between the lines of the story
shivering in the chill of dreams
I drape you in the cloak of my love
shelter you from the bitter cold of distance
kindle your sorrow to warm us till morning.
Don't falter now
for the sake of your two new faces
they have already split away from you
and returned to the playground of the past
flinging open the gate of hope.

Translated by Seema Atalla from Muhawala li-Tathakkur Ma Hadath [An attempt to remember what happened], Andiyat al-Fatayat, Sharjah, al-Dar al-Misriya, al-Lubnaniya, Cairo, 1998


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