March 23, 2011

America, America

God save America,
My home, sweet home!

The French general who raised his tricolor over Nuqrat al-Salman
where I was a prisoner thirty years ago …
in the middle of that U-turn that split the back of the Iraqi army,
the general who loved Saint Emilion wines called Nuqrat al-Salman a fort …
Of the surface of the earth, generals know only two dimensions:
whatever rises is a fort,
whatever spreads is a battlefield.
How ignorant the general was!

But Liberation was better versed in topography.
The Iraqi boy who conquered her front page sat carbonized behind a steering wheel
on the Kuwait-Safwan highway while television cameras
(the booty of the defeated and their identity)
were safe in a truck like a storefront on Rivoli Street.
The neutron bomb is highly intelligent.
It distinguishes between an "I" and an "Identity."

God save America,
My home, sweet home!

How long must I walk to Sacramento?
How long must I walk to Sacramento?
How long will I walk to reach my home?
How long will I walk to reach my girl?
How long must I walk to Sacramento?
For two days, no boat has sailed this stream,
Two days, two days, two days.
Honey, how can I ride?
I know this stream,
But, O but, O but,
For two days, no boat has sailed this stream.
La Li La La Li La
La Li La La Li La
A stranger becomes afraid.
Have no fear, dear horse.
No fear of the wolves of the wild,
No fear, for the land is my land.
La Li La La Li La
La Li La La Li La
A stranger becomes afraid.

God save America,
My home, sweet home!

I too love jeans and jazz and Treasure Island
and John Silver's parrot and the balconies of New Orleans.
I love Mark Twain and the Mississippi steam-boats and Abraham Lincoln's dogs.
I love the fields of wheat and corn and the smell of Virginia tobacco.
But I am not American.
Is that enough for the Phantom pilot to turn me back to the Stone Age?
I need neither oil nor America herself,
neither the elephant nor the donkey.
Leave me, pilot, leave my house roofed with palm fronds and this wooden bridge.
I need neither your Golden Gate nor your skyscrapers.
I need the village, not New York.
Why did you come to me from your Nevada desert, soldier armed to the teeth?
Why did you come all the way to distant Basra, where fish used to swim by our doorsteps?
Pigs do not forage here.
I only have these water buffaloes lazily chewing on water lilies.
Leave me alone, soldier.
Leave me my floating cane hut and my fishing spear.
Leave me my migrating birds and the green plumes.
Take your roaring iron birds and your Toma-hawk missiles.
I am not your foe.
I am the one who wades up to the knees in rice paddies.
Leave me to my curse.
I do not need your day of doom.

God save America,
My home, sweet home!

let's exchange gifts.
Take your smuggled cigarettes
and give us potatoes.
Take James Bond's golden pistol
and give us Marilyn Monroe's giggle.
Take the heroin syringe under the tree
and give us vaccines.
Take your blueprints for model penitentiaries
and give us village homes.
Take the books of your missionaries
and give us paper for poems to defame you.
Take what you do not have
and give us what we have.
Take the stripes of your flag
and give us the stars.
Take the Afghani mujahideen beard
and give us Walt Whitman's beard filled with butterflies.
Take Saddam Hussein
and give us Abraham Lincoln or give us no one.

Now as I look across the balcony,
across the summer sky, the summery summer,
Damascus spins, dizzied among television aerials,
then it sinks, deeply,
in the stones of the forts, in towers, in the arabesques of ivory,
and sinks, deeply, far from Rukn el-Din
and disappears far from the balcony.

And now
I remember trees:
the date palm of our mosque in Basra,
at the end of Basra
a bird's beak, a child's secret, a summer feast.
I remember the date palm.
I touch it. I become it, when it falls black without fronds,
when a dam fell, hewn by lightning.
And I remember the mighty mulberry
when it rumbled, butchered with an axe …
to fill the stream with leaves
and birds
and angels
and green blood.
I remember when pomegranate blossoms covered the sidewalks.
The students were leading the workers parade …

The trees die pummeled.
Dizzied, not standing, the trees die.

God save America,
My home, sweet home!

We are not hostages, America,
and your soldiers are not God's soldiers …
We are the poor ones, ours is the earth of the
drowned gods,
the gods of bulls,
the gods of fires,
the gods of sorrows that intertwine clay and
blood in a song ‥

We are the poor, ours is the god of the poor,
who emerges out of farmers' ribs,
and bright,
and raises heads up high …
America, we are the dead.
Let your soldiers come.
Whoever kills a man, let him resurrect him.
We are the drowned ones, dear lady.
We are the drowned.
Let the water come.

--- Saadi Youssef

(translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa)

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