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The house as casualty by Mahmoud Darwish

The house as casualty
by Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Catherine Cobham

In one minute the entire life of a house is ended. The house as casualty is also mass murder, even if it is empty of its inhabitants. A mass grave of raw materials intended to build a structure with meaning, or a poem with no importance in time of war. The house as casualty is the severance of things from their relationships and from the names of feelings, and from the need of tragedy to direct its eloquence at seeing into the life of the object. In every object there is a being in pain—a memory of fingers, of a smell, an image. And houses are killed just like their inhabitants. And the memory of objects is killed: stone, wood, glass, iron, cement are scattered in broken fragments like living beings. And cotton, silk, linen, papers, books are torn to pieces like proscribed words. Plates, spoons, toys, records, taps, pipes, door handles, fridges, washing machines, flower vases, jars of olives and pickles, tinned food all break just like their owners. Salt, sugar, spices, boxes of matches, pills, contraceptives, antidepressants, strings of garlic, onions, tomatoes, dried okra, rice and lentils are crushed to pieces just like their owners. Rent agreements, marriage documents, birth certificates, water and electricity bills, identity cards, passports, love letters are torn to shreds like their owners’ hearts. Photographs, toothbrushes, combs, cosmetics, shoes, underwear, sheets, towels fly in every direction like family secrets broadcast aloud in the devastation. All these things are a memory of the people who no longer have them and of the objects that no longer have the people—destroyed in a minute. Our things die like us, but they aren’t buried with us.


I don’t know if anyone is ever really prepared for the way things end. The most painful for me, where anguish runs deep, is when life happens so abruptly that the emptiness has embraced me without knowing.

I imagine myself breaking like an empty glass of water, breaking like a block of cement falling down a building, breaking like a piece of biscuit in someone’s hand, breaking like the soft flesh of a tomato, breaking like a person whose body can no longer contain the grief.

What to do with all this devastation. Do we all look for poems where we can be held—

The house as casualty by Mahmoud DarwishSOURCE

This poem appeared in A River Dies of Thirst: Journals by Mahmoud Darwish, published by Archipelago, 2009. Shared here with deep gratitude.


“This remarkable collection of poems, meditations, fragments, and journal entries was Mahmoud Darwish’s last volume to come out in Arabic.

River is at once lyrical and philosophical, questioning and wise—full of irony, resistance, and play. Darwish’s musings on unrest and loss dwell on love and humanity; in the pages of River, myth and dream are inseparable from truth.

Throughout this personal collection, Darwish returns frequently to his ongoing (and often lighthearted) conversation with death, warning that “eternity does not visit graves and loves to joke.””


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