Ghayath Almadhoun is a Syrian Palestinian poet living between Stockholm and Berlin. Adrenalin (published by Action Books) was his first collection to be published in English. “This sinuous translation by Catherine Cobham comprises poems that span years and continents, that circulate between cities, ideas, lovers, places of refuge, war zones, time zones, histories. Here is a vital, relentless, intertextual voice that refuses arrest by sentimentality, that pursues the poetry coursing underneath the poetry.”
We, who are strewn about in fragments, whose flesh flies through the air like raindrops, offer our profound apologies to everyone in this civilized world, men, women and children, because we have unintentionally appeared in their peaceful homes without asking permission. We apologize for stamping our severed body parts into their snow-white memory, because we have violated the image of the normal, whole human being in their eyes, because we have had the impertinence to leap suddenly on to news bulletins and the pages of the internet and the press, naked except for our blood and charred remains. We apologize to all those who did not have the courage to look directly at our injuries for fear they would be too horrified, and to those unable to finish their evening meals after they had unexpectedly seen fresh images of us on television. We apologize for the suffering we caused to all who saw us like that, unembellished, with no attempt having been made to put us back together or reassemble our remains before we appeared on their screens. We also apologize to the Israeli soldiers who took the trouble to press the buttons in their aircraft and tanks to blow us to pieces, and we are sorry for how hideous we looked after they aimed their shells and bombs straight at our soft heads, and for the hours they are now going to spend in psychiatrists’ clinics, trying to become human again, like they were before our transformation into repulsive body parts that pursue them whenever they try to sleep. We are the things you have seen on your screens and in the press, and if you made an effort to fit the pieces together, like a jigsaw, you would get a clear picture of us, so clear that you would be unable to do a thing.
Translation: Catherine Cobham
4978 and One Nights
To Faraj Bayraqdar who spent fourteen years in prison.
Isn’t the number of a secret bank account
Or the solution to a cubic equation
I assure you it’s not a random number devoid of reason
Or a number that came up by chance in a lottery draw
It’s a sticky number
That isn’t like the numbers of mobile phones or car licence plates.
Means the systematic escalation of pain
The essence of the wolf.
It means 119 thousand 496 hours
And it means seven million 169 thousand and 760 minutes
And it also means 430 million 185 thousand and 600 seconds.
Gaining 4979 days
Means you lose out on thirteen forbidden women
And thirty-seven casual relationships
And two children who were never born
Gaining these 4979 days
Means you lose 465 thousand 328 steps in the alleyways of old Damascus
And 114 funerals that happened without you
And 13 thousand 712 bottles of beer Three of them flat.
It means you don’t miss the bus 271 times
And don’t win the price of the lottery ticket eleven times.
Means you miss the World Cup three and a half times
And New Year’s Eve fourteen times
And the collapse of the Soviet Union once
Means 4978 and one nights
4978 and one nights with Shahrayar only
Shahrayar whose death you also missed.
Translation: Catherine Cobham