Identity Card by Mahmoud Darwish

[excerpt]

 

Put it on record.

I am an Arab.

Colour of hair: jet black.

Colour of eyes: brown.

My distinguishing features:

On my head the `iqal cords over a keffiyeh

Scratching him who touches it.

My address:

I’m from a village, remote, forgotten,

Its streets without name

And all its men in the fields and quarry.

What’s there to be angry about?

 

Put it on record.

I am an Arab.

You stole my forefathers’ vineyards

And land I used to till,

I and all my children,

And you left us and all my grandchildren

Nothing but these rocks.

Will your government be taking them too

As is being said?

 

So!

Put it on record at the top of page one:

I don’t hate people,

I trespass on no one’s property.

And yet, if I were to become hungry

I shall eat the flesh of my usurper.

Beware, beware of my hunger

And of my anger!

 

– from Leaves of Olives (1964), translated by Denys Johnson-Davies

 

Mahmoud Darwish was born in the Palestinian village of al-Birwa in Galilee, a village that was occupied and later razed by the Israeli army. Because they had missed the official Israeli census, Darwish and his family were considered “internal refugees” or “present-absent aliens.” Darwish lived for many years in exile in Beirut and Paris. He is the author of over 30 books of poetry and eight books of prose, and has won numerous awards and prizes for his work.

Darwish was imprisoned by the Israelis in the 1960s for reciting poetry and traveling between villages without a permit. Considered a “resistance poet,” he was placed under house arrest when his poem “Identity Card” was turned into a protest song. He spent 1970 at a USSR university, and then worked at the Egyptiian newspaper Al-Ahram. He subsequently lived in Beirut, where he edited the journal Palestinian Affairs from 1973 to 1982. In 1981 he founded and edited the journal Al-Karmel. Darwish served from 1987 to 1993 on the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1996 he was permitted to return from exile to visit friends and family in Israel and Palestine.

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