“We drag histories behind us,” the Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish writes in Exhausted on the Cross, “here / where there’s neither land / nor sky.” In pared-down lines, brilliantly translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Darwish records what Raúl Zurita describes as “something immemorial, almost unspeakable”—a poetry driven by a “moral imperative” to be a “colossal record of violence and, at the same time, the no less colossal record of compassion.”
Darwish’s poems cross histories, cultures, and geographies, taking us from the grime of modern-day Shatila and the opulence of medieval Baghdad to the gardens of Samarkand and the open-air prison of present-day Gaza. We join the Persian poet Hafez in the conquered city of Shiraz and converse with the Prophet Mohammad in Medina. Poem after poem evokes the humor in the face of despair, the hope in the face of nightmare.
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