To a Friend Returning to Aleppo

To a Friend Returning to Aleppo


We opened a bottle of wine, summoned
mountains overlooking ancient cities,
& cities, those pits of unease,
& we left your mother’s illness
alone—your mother, who insists
you don’t return to her.

We cut the cheese & washed the grapes,
& our friend repeated the story of her father’s
funeral, how she wept
to the man with the diseased eye
who wanted to confiscate her camera
outside the church, how she pretended
she was shooting, not the street, but Christ & his mother—
how many times have we believed in God to avoid
a small death? How many times have we sat in the pews
to elude our mothers’ fears? How many times
have we bent our bodies without love?

We didn’t speak of your mother,
who doesn’t want you to go back,
lest the embassy deem you unfit
for immigration. How could passport seekers return
to sick mothers in countries they’ve left
since the war began? You must prove
your exile & your sadness
to the employees of the first world,
as have done those who evaded arrests & missiles
only to be killed by sickness in Paris or Berlin.
No one survives their country.

After we danced under the temple tree in the city of concrete,
after you placed behind my ear a white flower
that darkened by the end of the night,
after the empty wine & whiskey bottles,
after we stated we won’t say goodbye, no we won’t
say goodbye, we stood near the half-open door
& I plucked from your hair a dry petal,
which I mistook for the wing of an insect.

This morning I stirred inside a familiar sadness
in my bedroom, & before the opening of curtains,
I greeted it: welcome, old friend,
you who haven’t left but merely
rested a while in the hippocampus,
welcome. We are not in despair.

(Translated from the Arabic)