arts

Two poems for today and yesterday


I read my adaptation of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem in Leeds last night. I also read it in Bradford during a protest at the Israeli air attacks on Gaza.
The Churchill poem I wrote on the occasion of his funeral, fifty years ago.

A Song for Churchill

I thought you said he shot down miners
When they were hungry out on strike?
But now they say he’s England’s finest
And we shall never see his like.

That’s history; it has no need for facts
The long view misses our uncomfortable acts.
The world ignored the man until
It needed him and he became its will.

I thought you said he hated each step forward
And tried to kill the Russian dream?
But now the whole world’s flags are lowered
And many peoples praise his name.

That’s history; its memory is short
Not many deeds of good or ill are caught.
The web of history is made
To show us patterns that must be obeyed.

I thought you said he forged the blade of hatred
That scores a gash across the heart?
And yet they say our finest hour is dated
When he alone showed us our part.

That’s history; how it can take a man
And make him what it needs or what it can.
The hero takes the place in time
Of millions more who’ll never have a name.

His name is nothing, though we may remember
How dead old hands once tried to stop the clock
The deeds which history will number
Are those no humankind can mock.

That’s history; tomorrow needs to know
Each time a light shone, even the dimmest glow.
The animal called man must hope
And lash such fictions to him like a rope.

January 24, 1965

Mahmoud Darwish: Identity Card

Set this down:
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have fathered eight children
And my ninth will be born when autumn comes
Does any of this make you angry?

Set this down:
I am an Arab
And I work in the quarry with men much like me
My eight children
need bread,
clothing and books
– I get them from the rocks.
I am not begging for charity at your doors
Nor will I grovel at the entrance to your chamber
Does any of this make you angry?

Set this down:
I am an Arab
I have a name but no title
I keep my cool in a country
Where people are ready to explode
My roots
Go deep down, to before the birth of time
Before the beginning
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before grass grew

My father is from the generations of the plough
He seeks no special privileges
And my grandfather was a farmer
He was not well-bred, nor well-born, either
I learnt from him to take pride in the sun
Before he taught me how to read
I live in a simple house like a watchman’s hut
Made of branches and cane
Is this how you think I should be living?
I have a name but no title

Set this down:
I am an Arab
You have stolen my ancestral orchards
And the land my children and I have tilled
Now we have nothing left for us
Except for these barren rocks
Is it true as I have heard
That now you will take even these from us?

Therefore
Set this down at the top of the first page:
I do not hate anyone
Nor do I want anything that is yours
But if I become hungry
Your flesh could become my food
Beware . . .
Beware . . .
Of my hunger
And my anger

Translation by Karl Dallas, October 22, 2002

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