Mourid Barghouti, My Grandfather’s Cloak

With a gentle hand, the storm grasps
the handle of the door of the world;
like a hesitant stranger, it lets itself in,
stripping off its masks one after the other.
Dropping lightning into woods,
darkness into torches,
despair into ships,
the devil into horse’s hooves,
blueness into the lips of the carriage driver,
and throwing me naked
into the jaws of the night.
The storm
nearly wrenches loose the stag’s horns.
The muscles of the waves
almost push back the coastline.
The sea is a team of phosphorescent horses
whipped by unseen lashes;
they chomp the drizzle, the horizons and the stars
and carry on their flying hooves
the stench of sulphur.
There are no boats on the sea,
the harbour is a sheet of shattered porcelain.
Nothing protects the trembling coast,
not even the fur of the sea’s foam.
Two chairs on the sand escape the storm
as if they were two lame runners
in a race.
Even the most proficient of animal-tamers,
cannot restore the unfettered waves
to the guards’ control.
I take refuge in that house with the imposing dome,
merciful arches,
warm blankets
and my grandfathers’ pictures
(worn out at the edges
in spite of the solidity of their moustaches),
pictures secure on the walls
as if they were built into them.
My grandfather, still harbouring the illusion
that the world is fine,
fills his rustic pipe
for the last time
before the advent of helmets and bulldozers!
My grandfather’s cloak gets hooked
on the bulldozer’s teeth.
The bulldozer retreats a few metres,
empties its load,
comes back to fill its huge shovel,
and never has its fill.
Twenty times, the bulldozer
comes and goes,
my grandfather’s cloak still hooked on it.
After the dust and smoke
have cleared from the house that once stood there,
and as I stare at the new emptiness,
I see my grandfather wearing his cloak,
wearing the very same cloak –
not one similar to it,
but the same one.
He hugs me and maintains a silent gaze,
as if his look
could order the rubble to become a house,
could restore the curtains to the windows,
and my grandmother to her armchair,
as if it could retrieve her coloured medicine pills,
could lay the sheets back on the bed,
could hang the lights from the ceiling,
and the pictures from the walls,
as if his look could return the handles to the doors,
and the balconies to the stars,
and persuade us to resume our dinner,
as if the world had not collapsed,
as if Heaven had ears and eyes.
He goes on staring at the emptiness.
I say:
what shall we do when the soldiers leave?
What will he do when the soldiers leave?
He slowly clenches his fist,
recapturing a boxer’s resolve in his right hand,
his coarse bronze hand,
the hand that tames the thorny slope,
the hand that holds his hoe lightly
and with ease,
the hand which, with a single blow,
splits a tree stump in half,
the hand that opens in forgiveness,
the hand that closes on the candy
with which he surprises his grandchildren,
the hand that was amputated
many years ago.

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Mourid Barghouti, My Grandfather’s Cloak

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