Friday, July 20, 2007

Mahmoud Darwish's Return to Haifa/"Identity Card"

I've been thinking of Mahmoud Darwish as he returned to Haifa, the place of his birth, this past week, during yet another troubled time for Palestinians. Darwish holds a unique place in Palestinian culture; the unofficial poet laureate of Palestine, one time member of the PLO, he has given voice to the Palestinian cause through a poetry that has spanned the gamut from stark realism to visionary prophecy. An early protest poem that I frequently teach is this cobbled-together translation of "Identity Card"; it gives voice to a working class Palestinian who must go to the "authorities" to be recognized as human. The refrain, translated either as "record," or "register me," "write down," or "write this down," is suggestive of the desire of Palestinians to be heard, to be written into the histories that have excluded them.

"Identity Card"

Register me.
I'm an Arab.
--Card number?
Fifty thousand.
Eight. The ninth
Will be born next summer.
--Are you angry?
Register me.
I'm an Arab.
Stone cutter.
I must cut bread
And clothes and books
For eight children.
I'll never beg at your door.
I'm an Arab.
--Are you angry?

Register me.
I'm an Arab.
Color of hair: jet black.
Eyes: brown.
Distinguishing marks:
Kuffiya and ighal on my head
And hands baked like rock.
Favorite food: olive oil and wild thyme.
Address: a forgotten quiet village
Where streets have no names
And men work in fields and quarries.

I'm nameless
And patient despite my anger.
I struck roots here
Long before the olive trees and poplars.
I'm a descendant of the plow pushers;
My ancestor was a peasant;
My home is a hut of mud.

You've stolen all my vineyards
And the land I used to till.
You've left me nothing for my children
Except the rocks.
But I've heard
You'll take away
Even the rocks.

Then register me first:
I hate nobody
And I don't steal.
But if I'm made to starve
I'll eat the flesh of my oppressor.
Beware of my hunger and anger!

Here's a recent story about Darwish's return to Haifa, where his family lived before they (along with about 800,000 other Palestinians throughout Palestine) were expelled in 1948.

Here's Amal Amireh's translation of Darwish's notes on the recent troubles in Gaza.


Amal A said...

Hey Philip,

I'm so glad to see you are joining the ranks of bloggers. It was great seeing you at RAWI.

Afra Al-Mussawir said...

I found this page through a google search, and I am very intrigued by this translation. I've never seen this poem interpreted as a dialogue, only as a monologue, and recordings of Darwish's recitations of this poem also make it sound like he had intended it as a monologue. This translation changes the essential character of the poem by presenting it as a dialogue, but it's much more powerful to me this way. Did you get this translation from somewhere or did you do it yourself?


Philip Metres said...


This is, I believe, my slightly-revised version of a translation that I found many years ago....and the original decision to create a dialogue from this poem was a translator's whose name has been lost to me. I've looked and looked, but it's as yet unfound. If you find out, let me know!