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Ahlam Bsharat, Palestine

The Poems

I Am Watermelon, I Am Lamb

My family used me to drink water,
they thought I was a tin cup.
This goes back to the day I cupped my palm in prayer,
and to the times I’d fallen but didn’t break.

A deep gash in my left leg left a scar
that no man ever loved—
a scar that proved nothing, disproved nothing.

For years things stayed the same:
I leaned on my scar. And in school,
my girlfriends used me as a sponge
in Arabic class, passed me around
away from the teacher’s eyes.

I also did it, used myself,
passed myself through walls.

But there’s no reason anymore to think
I am a watermelon.
Even though the friends I acquire in life
think that my green exterior
justifies putting me under the knife.

During religious holidays
people in our neighborhood considered me
a lamb, slaughtered me in front of my mom.

Mom reached out to touch me
but when her hand went through my chest
she felt that the whole thing was an illusion
and forgave them.

This kind of illusion helped me later
to move about in empty trains.

I was nimble and lucky, and not once,
while packing my bags at crossroads
and waiting, did anyone plant a music instrument
in my head or think me a flower pot.

Then I committed suicide.
On my fortieth birthday
I threw myself off my table
into shards and fragments in front of the guests
who instantly disappeared.

I had to regather myself by myself,
sweep the floor, as I do
whenever dust fills my house
after I forget my soul windows open.

(Translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah)
* * *

The Cat Cow

I want to hug the cat named Cow, who survived the war
Squeeze her so hard in my arms
That her spots rub off on me
That I become like her
Or simply become her
The cat Cow

.

I want to hug the ruined balcony, some of which, not all of which, survived the war

.

And tell her:
My heart’s balcony is with you, Balcony
My railing hugging yours
My washing hugging yours
My hoe stored in the corner hugging yours
My view hugging yours
Hugging every last thing in sight
Every atom of air
Every flight of birds

.

I don’t want to hug my friends, the survivors of the war
Afraid they’ll fall from my hands
Afraid they’ll melt at my heat
Afraid I’ll kill them with my hug
Even where the war did not

(Translated from the Arabic by Andrew Leber)

The Poet

Ahlam Bsharat is a Palestinian novelist, poet, and children’s author, as well as a teacher of creative writing. She is a prominent and highly regarded author of YA novels in the Arab world, and her books have met with great success at the local and international levels. They have been included in IBBY lists, shortlisted for the Palestine Book Award (UK) and Etisalat Award for Children’s Literature (UAE). She has participated in numerous creative writing forums in Europe. Her poems have been translated into English, Spanish, and Italian. Her latest publication: “اسم الطائر ” is a collection of poetry rooted in her peasant origins. She tells of village life with a rawness and directness in these poems, and without the usual romanticization of this subject matter.