Maqdisi the Geographer
You say the ‘Dead Sea’ is a fabrication of the Greeks
That you called it the ‘Upturned Lake’
The sun’s a crown of thorns
around the forenoon, you say
And on your body, the clay
Cleopatra’s last words
Is it the Dead Sea or the Upturned Lake?
—It makes little difference, as long
as the eyes of the earth
are generous with their water
As your eyes
with their salt.
[Abu ʿAbd Allah Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Maqdisi, also known as al-Bashshari, (947-991) was a geographer and traveller, and author of The Finest Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions, considered one of the most important medieval works of geography.]
We could have walked on the Sea of Galilee
If we hadn’t been crucified at Bisan checkpoint.
Hours of sacred passion,
Hours waiting to be saved by some mighty hand.
Our last supper was cooked by the sun
And the soldiers got drunk from our chalices.
A long, slow crucifixion between Jerusalem and Tiberias,
without wood or nails
No-one will believe the screams of the crucified,
without wood or nails
No books or hymns will repeat them
and the sun will grill our bodies for the barbarian soldiers.
Bombs in Baghdad always explode in Jerusalem
They said an Iraqi peasant had shot down an Apache with his Brno rifle
during the ‘Final Battle’
An Iraqi peasant from Karbala by the name of Ali Ubayd Mingash.
Jerusalem was turned upside down at the news.
Apparently the Apache was dropping instructions to surrender
along with 25,000-dinar bills
and it was noted that the Brno was Czech,
first manufactured in 1924.
Love Saddam Hussein or hate him, everyone believed the Iraqi TV report.
Even I believed it, as I listened to the wretched rain hammer down
without watering a single tree.
My whole family believed it, and from March 2003 onwards
they reserved a seat for death at dinner.
This poem’s one of the lies of that war
Lies, these letters and words,
and a liar, that Iraqi peasant
martyrs belong to God alone
bombs in Baghdad always explode in Jerusalem.
They repeat your name in the British parliament
On the Underground, on Twitter, in fleeting reports
They repeat it in Herodotus’s Histories
These neo-Hellenes won’t admit
that the Athens we built with our words
was Black Athena.
There are many seas I could drown in
Many clouds I could offer bitter cups of rain to
Only your name now signifies me—
The name I hear between pirates and mercenaries’ teeth
Between the teeth of Herodotus.
Instant coffee from Osem, labneh from Tnuva
Two hundred and fifty grams of Emek cheese
and Soglowek olive mortadella.
A loaf of happy bread from Angel Bakeries
A glass of Tapuzina mango juice
And halva with Aleppine pistachio from Strauss.
I say the name of the Lord
And tuck in to my poison.
[These are the names of popular Israeli food manufacturers.]
Translated from Arabic by Katharine Halls