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Mahmoud Darwish: Murdered Houses

Open Democracy :: 12 September 2006
“Everything ends in one minute.” openDemocracy publishes this “paragraph prayer” written by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in response to war’s crimes and destruction.

In one minute the lifetime of a house is ended. When a house is killed, it is a serial killing, even if the house is empty: a mass grave of all the things once used to give a home to Meaning, or, in times of war, to a marginal poem.

A slaughtered house is the severing of things from what they meant, from the feelings they inspired. It’s the duty of tragedy to change the gaze of eloquence and to reflect upon the life of Things, for in everything there’s a being that suffers: a memory of fingers, a memory of a smell, a memory of a picture. Houses are murdered just as their inhabitants are killed and the memories of things are slaughtered: stones, wood, glass, iron, mortar – scattered like human limbs. Cotton silk, linen, exercise books, books – torn apart like the unsaid words of people who did not have the time to say them. Dishes broken, spoons, toys, old records, pipes, doorknobs, the refrigerator, the washing machine, pots, jars of olives and pickles, cars – all broken, like their owners. The two whites – sugar and salt – are trod upon along with matchboxes, medicines, birth control pills, steroids, strings of garlic and onions, dried okra, tomatoes, rice and lentils – all are trod upon as are their owners.

Land-deeds and marriage certificates torn apart with birth papers, water and electricity bills, identity cards, passports, love letters – torn apart like the hearts of their owners.

Photographs are swept away with combs, make-up, brushes, shoes, lingerie, sheets, towels, swept away like family secrets betrayed to others and to devastation. All these things are the memories of people deprived of things, and the memory of things deprived of people …. Everything ends in one minute. Things die like we do, but they are not buried with us.

Translation: Tania Nasir and John Berger

Mahmoud Darwish is regarded as the greatest living Palestinian poet. He is the author of more than thirty books of poems, and the founder and editor of the literary journal al-Karmel. His many awards include France’s Order of Arts and Letters (1993) and the Lannan Foundation’s Award for Cultural Freedom (2002). He lives in Ramallah, Palestine. His website is here.

Among his works in English are:

Unfortunately, It Was Paradise – selected poems (University of California Press, 2003)

Also in openDemocracy:

John Berger, “Undefeated despair” (13 January 2006)

One comment on “Mahmoud Darwish: Murdered Houses

  1. Pingback: Indian Writing :: Tribute to Mahmoud Darwish :: October :: 2008

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This entry was posted on 13 September, 2006 by in Books, Empire, War and Terror, Hegemon-watch, Human Rights, International Relations, Palestine.

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"