Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “To My Mother” makes me weep at times. My earliest memory at the age of three, informed my understanding of this construct, subsequently orchestrating the assimilation of successive losses into my repertoire of being.
My mother stood wailing near the television screen as though intent on entering the box and rearranging the scenes. The defeat of the Arab armies of the Six-Day War and ensuing occupation of her beloved Jerusalem unraveled her like a forgotten sweater that had not been mothballed. My three-year-old self looked on, frightened and yet mesmerized by the histrionics of this strange woman who up until then had been my anchor.
Queasy at any perceived unruliness of emotions, my father urged her to calm down for his sake as much as mine. My mother’s tattered edges came together in a crescendo of uncharacteristic fury as she shot back a perfectly lucid proclamation: “Let her know the truth!”
I paced through the vacant rooms of our second-floor apartment; the bare walls and furniture that seemed sparse in relation to the size of the place gave it an air of aloofness. Slothfully, I inched towards the hard edge of my oversized bed and covered my head under the sheets. Freighted by my mother who had lost all composure and a faraway home, a precocious realization that the world was indeed a profoundly unsafe place slowly settled in. Failed attempts at commanding my body to travel the bed’s full splendor prompted me to surrender with unbashful abandon to tears that were not mine alone or solely of time and place. Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, ‘To My Mother” speaks to me of a profound loss of home and of innocence.
I yearn for my mother’s bread
And my mother’s coffee
And my mother’s touch
As [my] childhood grows up within me
Day upon the bosom of day
And I love my life,
For if I died
I would feel shame for my mother’s tears
Take me, if I ever return,
As a veil for your lashes
And cover my bones with grass
Baptized in the purity of your heel
Tie me to you
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails
In the train of your dress
Perhaps, I would then become a god
A god, I would become
If I touched the depths of your heart
“To My Mother,” translated by Joseph Massad in “Liberating Songs: Palestine Put to Music,” Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol 32. No.3, 2002/03.