"The House Murdered"
November 2006 Issue
In one minute, the whole life of a house ends. The house murdered is also mass
murder, even if vacant of its residents. It is a mass grave for the basic elements
needed to construct a building for meaning, or for an insignificant poem in a time of war. The house, murdered, is the amputation of things from their relations and from the names of emotions, and it is tragedy’s need to guide eloquence to contemplate the life of a thing. In each thing there’s a being that aches . . . the memory of fingers, of a scent, of an image. And houses get murdered just as their residents get murdered. And as the memory of things get murdered—wood, stone, glass, iron, cement—they all scatter in fragments like beings. And cotton, silk, linen, notepads, books, all are torn like words whose owners were not given time to speak. And the plates, spoons, toys, records, faucets, pipes, door handles, and the fridge, the washer, the vases, jars of olives and pickles, and canned foods, all break as their owners broke. And the two whites, salt and sugar, are pulverized, and also the spices, the matchboxes, the pills and oral contraceptives, elixirs, garlic braids, onions, tomatoes, dried okra, rice and lentils, as happens with the residents. And the lease contract, the marriage and birth certificates, the utility bills, identity cards, passports, love letters, all torn to shreds like the hearts of their owners. And the pictures fly, the toothbrushes, hair combs, make-up accessories, shoes, underwear, sheets, towels, like family secrets hung in public, in ruin. All these things are the memories of people who were emptied of things, and the memories of things that were emptied of people . . . all end in one minute. Our things die like us, but they don’t get buried with us!
—Translated by Fady Joudah
Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian, is one of the most admired poets writing in Arabic today. His latest book of poems in English, “The Butterfly’s Burden,” is from Copper Canyon Press. Fady Joudah is a poet, translator, and field member of Doctors Without Borders.