Our Foorprints on Water / Joys That Do Not Come / Top-Down

Three poems by Palestinian poet Marzouk Halabi, translated from Arabic exclusively for the Tel Aviv Review of Books.


Translated from Arabic by Raya Kab


Our Footprints on Water

As long as we will die,

Each in our own way,

Why do we not die as kindly as our grandmothers?

Like those who bandaged our wounds

And fed the turtle doves

As long as we will die one day,

Why do we not die with joy?

Drinking to those who love us

And to the arms that gently fold us

Who ward us off

Harm, cold, and the evil eye?

As long as we will die one day,

Why do we not die elegantly:

Bathe in perfume every morning,

Wrap ourselves in silk scarves,

And stomp on the floor with Italian shoes,

And announce:

We are coming?

As long as we will die tomorrow

Or the day after tomorrow

Why do we not die in recognition of our mothers’ favor

Of uninterrupted care,

Night and day

And of setting up an occasion where they prepare kohl

For the beautiful eyes?

Why do we not confront our fathers with the truth:

That they on a plate

Have served us life and disappointments?

Why do we not thank the Cypress

That it taught us sublimity?

As long as we will die tomorrow,

Why do we not die as long as we are impartial,

Where not a single language is broken at our hands

And no moon strays from its goals

Nor has a prophet strayed to the unseen?

As long as we are about to die,

Why do we not leave a burning coal in the fireplace

For the absent lovers?

And an unsigned poem

To keep them warm in a foreign land?

As long as we will die as others did,

Why do we not leave to the rest the keys of time

And our footprints on water?

As long as we pass like time,

Why do we not leave behind in space

Some room for nostalgia,

For the charm of swings,

And kisses?

As long as we will die, like roses in a vase,

Like birds of cold weather,

Like lovers out of intense passion,

Like the destitute on the sidewalks of cities,

Like a whale between high tide and low tide,

Why do some of us insist on leaving their memory in a dustbin,

Like a corpse ravaged by time?

As long as we will die,

As all people do,

Why do we not die and leave a heart full of love

On a tree trunk nearby

So that passers-by are amused when they try

To guess the meaning behind it?

As long as we will inevitably die like the others,

Why, then, are we so astonished

Every time death stretches out his hand to shake?

It is death that comes upon us


He brings no pain to the dead

To prepare for the journey,

We should pack a light bag

One that will not arouse the curiosity of the guards in the corridors

And let us search in dictionaries

For the names of nothingness


January 2023



Joys that Do Not Come

For whose sake are tree branches stretching out

And shadows growing tall?

For whose sake is light broken in water?

For whose sake does a rose in a book run dry,

And a palm tree break forth in the heart?

For whose sake does rain fall over the sea?

And for whose sake does evening chill?

For whose sake are the machination and plot ripened,

Along the way to doomsday?


For whose sake do people applaud on the rooftops

And young women spray their perfume on the streets

And light up their breasts?

For whose sake are amulets composed and hidden in a star?


For whose sake is kohl softly prepared,

And are bracelets are magically made?

For whose sake are congratulations sent,

And is crocus gathered?

For whose sake are tents pitched,

And does the moon appear like a wide meadow,

On the plain sky?


For whose sake do birds of love laugh,

And are roses hung on balconies?

To whom does the florist secretly give a smile,

And is henna planted?

For whose sake are horses saddled,

And are worn anklets around their hooves?

And for whose sake do female singers trill?

These are questions that are precociously murdered,

With their askers, by the guards

While the guards disappear in the dark


September 2021



Top Down

In wars,




And houses

By a bomb



In wars

Poems are destined

To lead a short life


In wars

With dyspnea

With broken rhythms

All poems are born


In wars

People’s lives

Are sacrificed

To keep doctrines



In wars

Life is constricted

Like the eye of a needle

While interpretation

Is expanded


In wars

The facts come out

From under the rubble

And from hospitals’ wards


In wars

All dances around your totem

All images of victory

All the applause

Cannot redeem the fallen


In wars

Brokers exchange corpses for corpses,

And do not bat

An eyelid


In wars

Everything shows wars

As beautiful;

You must look at wars

With your heart


In wars

You survive

Only if you do not

Lose your mind


In wars

Demons seduce

Thou shalt not go

When they nod

Nor shalt thou comply


In wars

Details die

No rose is there at a window

No rose in a book

Nor is there a rose in a vase

There is no rose on a mass grave


In wars,

All roads

Lead to doomsday


In wars

We all fall into a ditch

How, then,

Would we have an exit

Through a poem

That is deadlocked?


In wars

From the roofs of houses

Turtle doves take flight

To search for a star in the sky


In wars

To no man

Shalt thou

Tell the truth

Since everyone

Is slain by lies


In wars

The truth is dead

Except for a doll

The paramedics found under the rubble


In wars

Huge is the helplessness

And each of us

Is as small as a grain of wheat


In wars

Give a smile

To survivors

Speak kindly

To paramedics

And believe

In the game of luck


In wars

From myths

Our heroes emerge

To slaughter the heroes of others

Where the universe is leveled out


In wars

Rulers try their luck

To assassinate the human essence

And they succeed


In wars

No one comes back unscathed from poems

Neither from language,

Nor from metaphor


In wars

They at everything shoot

They shoot at you

At your existence

At your poems

From your notebooks let these latter flee

Where they may survive


In wars

Soldiers sing

In their funerals

And dance


In wars

Interpretation ends

With the first burial

Of a smiling child


In wars

Meanings and boundaries get blended

With the blood of the murdered


In wars

Dogs guard the graves of their owners

Until the graves are dry


In wars

Cemeteries bustle with life

And the dead enjoy having a company


In wars

The rulers gamble

With their surplus airplanes

With their surplus power and whoredom

And meet at the end of the night

To pray in faith


The war will change its direction

When you think of others

It will become less terrible

Every time you detest your image in the mirror

It will end

If you love for your neighbor

What you love for yourself

So do and say

It was the poem

That saved me

And saved him


In wars

As in love:

I wish the boy had been a stone!


In wars

Death looks elegant

In the general’s plan


In wars

Do not trust in God

Nor in his messengers

Of white men

Trust only that woman

Who took your pulse

That who gave you medicine

That who shed for you a tear

And that who pitched you a tent

In the open field


In wars

Everything is written from top to down

This poem

All the beautiful names of God





The narration

The narrator

All these are things

That airplanes demolish

And they sink

Into the ground


In wars

Time becomes a fiend

And we become the children of the story


Translated from Arabic by Raya Ka

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