Three Poems from Asmaa Azaizeh

15 May, 2022
Rana Bishara, “The Roadmap for Elim­i­na­tion,” 2006-Ongo­ing. OCHA maps, dried cac­ti, black threads, 240x400x400cm (cour­tesy The Pales­tine Museum).


Asmaa Azaizeh


I am but one Word


Look father,
lan­guage is a lav­ish bed
and I slipped out of life’s vagina
onto an old step.
So in which lan­guage do I lament your death?

For twelve whole years
Al-Khansa’* stood at the school gate.
I gib­bered after her,
like a par­rot with no tongue
and every time, tears welled up in her eyes,
crea­tures with hard­ened skins
would walk across the desert of my eyes.

My moth­er cuts the mul­ber­ry tree
every time it grows,
so its roots don’t split the wall.
Which lan­guage can split
my sad­ness over you?

I picked the words
off the tree’s memory
of its long-gone limbs,
I plowed language
from the meadow’s fantasy
of its absent expanse.

Cats taught me their elegies
over the fetuses
that nev­er formed in their wombs,
death tied me to the school gate,
ask­ing for its share;
I am but one word
hop­ping on its short tongue

I am but a word I can’t make out
I will be spo­ken and be finished

If lamen­ta­tion was meowing
or bleating
I would become it.
I would be a long wail
that sum­mons my father
or a ques­tion that leads me
to him 

I am but a name that stayed in God’s belly,
one that he for­got to teach Adam.
Let me know of oth­er names
so I can say another.

Look father,
lan­guage is a lav­ish bed,
Al-Khansa’ sleeps on it like a ripe sphere

When I stand at its foot,
like an aban­doned quarter
silence whis­tles through me.
And into my body,
on the tips of their toes,
come the elegies. 


Trans­lat­ed from the Ara­bic by Mari­am Hijjawi

 * one of the most influ­en­tial poets of the pre-Islam­ic and ear­ly Islam­ic peri­ods. In her time, the role of a female poet was to write ele­gies for the dead.


Watch Asmaa Aza­izeh recite her poem “Don’t Believe Me if I Talk to You of War” in Arabic:



The Eye of the Blackbird


The disc of my life will soon fall into my lap
Not much will hap­pen after that
Those I wished I could meet have died
The coun­try I dreamt of became a rap song in a dis­tant car
The hors­es I raised as a child bit into my arm
and there is no sign they are let­ting go

At any event
My bot­tle of ink is large and it seems like I will not live long enough to emp­ty it

The poems I wished writ­ing I vit­ri­fied into his shrouds

I taught the octo­pus­es that have climbed out of my back how to feel for his absence

I sit atop a rock of longing
and wait for the wind to give me shape
I may turn into a black­bird with a wide eye
a deep and wide eye
through which I shall see my new disc of life
and prob­a­bly will not remem­ber I was my own self
nor that this tree
which will become my home
was some­thing unknown, as if it was my father.

Trans­lat­ed from the Ara­bic by Adam Zuabi



A Bed of Green Onions


Come look, my cat,
at my dull piece of ember
Each time I turn my back,
It’s cov­ered with ash by time’s big hands

And I am like you in this darkness;
my pupils dilated,
my meow­ing stifled
in the chest of an old doll

Pupils crossed by ancient travellers 
who nev­er even heard
of the idea of arrival

Pupils of rail­ways and cities
and whis­tles and leaving,
expan­sive as a mead­ow that lost
his father, the horizon,
and so went on forever.
I rode on the back of his untamed wind,
I spun my life into detec­tive stories,
I dwelled forty bod­ies and left fifty,
I mar­ried twice,
I almost died
a thou­sand times in my dreams
If it weren’t for the scare­crow of loneliness
who punc­tured the silence of the night

I tat­tooed a Canaan­ite tablet on my back
and took to per­suad­ing people
that I was four thou­sand years old.
I built hous­es on hills that I did not know.
I lived in them,
then razed them to the ground,
then built others

I dis­card­ed men, and attract­ed others
I thought I had been killed
but my soul kept running
back to my chest
I polite­ly threw love out,
and so he came back
through the window

I slaugh­tered the chil­dren that I thought up,
to escape the pris­ons of motherhood.
And moth­er­hood watched from afar, delighted

I hid my father’s rifle
hop­ing that gazelles would one day rule us
but they were then skinned in our kitchen

Then God’s cho­sen people
began to choose
our heads one after the other,
drag­ging us to the big slaughterhouse
that we call freedom

My skin is mot­tled with joy and regret.
Each time I replace it
with a smooth dress
it is torn by sarcasm’s nails
and I am left naked

I have met poets
with whom I thought
that dooms­day was upon us.
And that God had cho­sen us,
only us, to live

I have left men,
mak­ing them think
that they were bastards
and that they did not deserve love
except to lament their luck at its gate

And here I am

After all this, my mot­tled cat,
meow­ing mute­ly at the gate
of our lit­tle house.
The beau­ti­ful past lets me in,
I walk in the backyard
look­ing for the tail
of a fish I ate thir­ty years ago

The pome­gran­ate tree is dead
but its shad­ow lives on,
my pupils dilate in its blackness

I crawl atop the wall
over­look­ing a bed of green onions
My mother’s hand weeds it
My father’s is buried with­in it

Trans­lat­ed from the Ara­bic by Mari­am Hijjawi

Asmaa Azaizeh is a poet, journalist, and cultural manager based in Haifa. In 2010, she received the Debutant Writer Award from Al Qattan Foundation for her volume of poetry Liwa (2011, Alahlia). She has published three other volumes of poetry. Among them Don’t Believe Me if I Talk of War, which was translated into Dutch and Swedish. Asmaa has also published a bilingual poetry anthology in German and Arabic Unturned Stone (2017, Alahlia). She has contributed to and participated in various journals, anthologies and poetry festivals around the world. Her poems have been translated to English, German, French, Persian, Swedish, Spanish, Greek and other languages. In 2012 she was the first Director of the Mahmoud Darwish Museum in Ramallah. She has worked as a cultural editor in several newspapers, a presenter on TV and radio stations, and as the director of the Fattoush bookstore and book fair in Haifa. Visit her on IG @asmaaazaizeh.