Rain on rain

And mud on mud

My grandmother weaves the story

With a thread of sun

And a thread of moon

She grinds her words

In the mill of her breath, and scatters them

Among the stars


Rain on rain

And mud on clay

My grandmother turns with the earth

And kneads sand into her wine

At moonrise


Rain on rain

And mud on mud

She attaches the sea to a pen

And spreads its breath on a page

She dries the salt on her knees

Gives birth to clouds

She makes fountains of her breasts

Gives birth to the grass


Rain on rain

And mud on clay

At night my grandmother sows cities

That grow at daybreak

And she sings to the reeds


Rain on rain

He writes on the clay

We have taken the one in the sky as our witness

And he said

The sky comes from you

The sky is for you

My grandmother locked

All the doors with the cry of her blood


Rain on rain

And the clay tablets say

We have taken the one in the sky as our witness

He asked for blood

And would not accept our harvests

The sky is mine

My grandmother barricaded

The doors with the cry of her blood


Rain on rock

Blood on the grass

And grass above the blood

Blood leads to blood

Half of you will be slaughtered by the other half

And the sky has bolted its doors


Rain on rain

And mud on mud

Each time a herd of gazelles goes by

The hunters devour them

Though they already had gorged themselves


She lowered her eyes

And stopped

She did not find her own face

Horses’ hooves had smashed the face of the earth

They carried death and the dead on their backs

This time their faces didn’t tell her their destination

Her own face fell

She did not find her eyes

She knelt down

The hooves went on crushing the face of the earth

Glistening now in another direction

The horses’ hooves arrived at the precipice

Trampling the chrysanthemums back to the womb

Then they all plunged into the desert’s abyss

There is no way out if you kill

Your victory will teeter on one leg

There will be a crown of blood on your head


Rain on rain

And mud on clay

My grandmother sets her fingers on fire waiting

For a prodigal to return

She gives off an odour of blood

My grandmother is still a virgin


At daybreak

A child got up out of the rubble

He looked for his mother

He pushed away the rocks around her

He shook her hard but she didn’t wake up

He called all of his brothers and sisters’ names

He turned back to his mother, crying out

I won’t trust you anymore after today, Mama


You sang to the doves

That no one would slit their throats.

On his birthday

In the orphanage

He wrote on the wall with a bird’s feather:

I trust my mother

She never learned how grown-ups have fun

She never knew how they coloured my brothers and sisters,

Coloured her too

Coloured everything red

She didn’t yell at them

Because they played at knocking down houses

She didn’t shout in their faces

When they set my swing-set

And Hala’s house on fire

She did not cry out

When they lined my father up against the wall with the neighbours

And shot crayons from their rifles

That coloured their heads all red

Red, Mama

Kept you from shouting

Or blaming anyone

The child who is no longer a child continues

To make doves fly wherever he can

And his heart is red.


Rain on rain

And mud on mud

She bends her neck to the wind

And her waist to the trunk of a fruit-tree

Bends her knees to the pebbles

And her forehead to the dust

She offers her fingers to the bees

And her teeth to the truth

Her songs to the reeds

And her feet to the roots

Her blood to the wedding of pollen and flower

She lets her hair down over the story


On the café terrace

Torrents of rain

Violent wind

The flame in my lighter went out again and again

I couldn’t light my cigarette

The rain came down in torrents

And the wind was violent

With one touch of his finger on the trigger

The soldier launched the missile

Torrents of rain did not put out

The flames in the building on fire

And the violent winds

Carried away rags of flesh I loved

And scattered them far from here


Salt on wound

And water on mud

We are only memories

On the run across time


— Translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Hacker

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