’Our cries, she used to say…’

’Our cries, she used to say…’
Our cries, she used to say
would scratch the moon’s windowpanes
and scrape the corners of tombstones which milked the moon

My mother set the long slope of her back against us
to interrogate the walls’ dampness
decipher saltpeter’s crumbling alphabet
translate the symbols carved on the underside of the city
which she only knew in profile
since she never ventured farther than her shopping bag
rarely crossing the uncertain borders of her lamp
City which sent us its rejected rains
and sometimes a wheezy snow which hooked its flakes into the
pomegranate-tree’s ears

The planet must be cleaned up
God must be cleaned up!
My mother cried, tying her apron.
Vénus Khoury-Ghata

from Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond, edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar (London: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008)

translated by Marilyn Hacker

Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.
Vénus Khoury-Ghata

Vénus Khoury-Ghata was born in the Lebanese mountain village of Bsherr. Her awards include the Apollinaire Prize, the Mallarmé Prize, Grand Prix de la Société des gens de lettres, the Jules Supervielle Prize, Prize Baie des anges and the Goncourt Prize for Poetry (and Miss Beirut 1959). She has lived in Paris since 1972, and in addition to her poetry has published several novels.

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About ’Our cries, she used to say…’

This poem, representing Lebanon, is part of The Written World – our collaboration with BBC radio to broadcast a poem from every single nation competing in London 2012.