“I had no say in who I was” – Mahmoud Darwish’s Mural

Mahmoud Darwish Exhibit at Bin Matar House

The Arab world has a long tradition of poetry.

In the pre-Islamic era, in Northern Arabia, Bedouin poets challenged each other to verbal duels.  Before a panel of esteemed judges, they described their nomadic life.  Their poems typically began with a lament for an abandoned camp and a lost love.  In the second verse they praised their camel or horse and described their difficult desert journey to the fair.  The finale was a tribute to the poets’ tribes while their enemies were vilified. ( Al-Bab.com)

The most beautiful poems, the Mou’allaqat, became the Hanging Ones.  The poems inscribed in gold letters were hung on the Ka’ba – the sacred stone in modern Mecca.

In the Arab world, Mahmoud Darwish is the modern day Moudhahhabat or Gilded One.

The “savior of the Arab language” his thirty volumes of poetry have sold over two million copies.  Reporters wrote whether he read his poems in Cairo or Damascus thousands of people, from college professors to cab drivers, attended.

“He could not walk out in public without being recognized.”

Like his Bedouin predecessors, his poets are laments for his lost land and love, Palestine.  They describe his difficult journey to Lebanon after his upper Galilee village was destroyed by Israeli soldiers in 1948.  When his horse finally found its way back to Ramallah in the newly formed state of Israel, he began to write poetry reflecting his experience of exile.

Imprisoned several times for reading his poems, he eventually moved to the Soviet Union, Cairo, Tunis, Beirut, and Paris.  There he continued to lament Palestinian uprootedness while finding the courage, and humanity, to write about his Jewish friends, lovers and Israeli jailors in “tender, nuanced portraits”.

After a life-threatening heart surgery, Darwish’s focus changed to the personal experience that transcends all emotions and politics – death.

The Mural excerpts I posted,

Someday I will become a thought, a bird and a poet,

show Darwish became more metaphysical or Sufi-like.  Like others who are confronted with their own mortality, Darwish described his near-death experience;

I came before my hour so no angel approaches to ask:

what did you do over there in the world?

I don’t hear the chorus of the righteous or wailing of the sinners

I am alone in whiteness

alone …

Alone, in the center of a room at the Bin Mattar House is a 4×2 meter concrete wall echoing the Ka’ba.  Layered on gold sheets, a photographic print of the Mural manuscript is embossed onto its walls.

Until I visited the exhibit last week, Darwish was unknown to me.

His first book, Wingless Birds was published in 1960.  But it wasn’t until 2001 when he won the $350,000 Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom that his works were widely translated into English.  After awarding his prize, this American foundation began translating his work and publishing it through the University of California Press.

“His courage in speaking out against injustice and oppression, while eloquently arguing for a peaceful and equitable co-existence between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews is what motivated Lannan Foundation to honor him.”

French artists Marie-Francoise Rouy and Luc Martinez created this exhibit before Darwish’s death in 2008.  Normally Darwish destroyed his manuscripts.  But when this project was proposed, he agreed to write out the last lines.  This living wall is a place people can gather to hear him reading and feel his words with their hands.

Despite the fact that pre-Islamic poetry is etched into the Ka’ba,  its existence causes controversy and Imams debate its significance.  Darwish’s life and work written at this particular moment in time will continue to be a thorn in the side of those in power.

His elegy written on cement walls in Bahrain will probably be the closest this Moudhahhabat’s work will come to hanging alongside his Bedouin predecessors.

Mahmoud Darwish’s Mural  is a multimedia and interactive art installation by artists Marie-Francoise Rouy and Luc Martinez.  It will continue through 31 June 2012 at the Bin Mattar House in Muharraq, Bahrain.

One Day I’ll Become a Poet

On the River Jordan is a site called Bethany Beyond the Jordan. It is said to be the place where John baptized Jesus. It is on the Jordanian side of the river. The water is very low because further upriver the river was dammed and the water diverted.

One day I’ll become what I want

One day I’ll become a poet

Water obedient to my vision

My language a metaphor for metaphors

I don’t speak or indicate a place

Place is my sin and subterfuge

I am from there

My here leaps from my footsteps to my imagination…

I am from what was or will be

I was created and destroyed in the expanse of the endless void.

– pg. 11 from Murals by Mahmoud Darwish

One Day I Will Become a Bird

Dove in Seyahdi House in Muharraq Bahrain

One day I’ll become what I want

One day I’ll become a bird

that plucks my being from nothingness.

As my wings burn I approach the truth

and rise from the ashes

I am the dialogue of dreamers

I shunned the body and self to complete the first journey

towards meaning

but it consumed me then vanished

I am that absence

The fugitive from heaven

pg. 11 from Murals by Mahmoud Darwish

One Day I Will Become a Thought

Poppies on mountain outside Bethlehem

One day I will become what I want

One day I will become a thought

that no sword or book can dispatch to the wasteland

A thought equal to rain on the mountain split open by a blade of grass

where power will not triumph

and justice is not fugitive.

– pg 10 from Murals by Mahmoud Darwish

Flower in the Sand

Desert flower after a winter with less than 3/4s of an inch of rain.

When the sky is grey

and I see a rose sprouting through the cracks in the wall

I don’t say: the sky is grey

but keep my eye on the rose and tell it:

it’s quite a day!

from Mural by Mahmoud Darwish

Perhaps You Will Feast on This Banquet of Love

We are not forced to do anything. We are only chosen. To be chosen does not mean anything by itself, but the meaning of what you are chosen to do does. Once we make that choice, the Divine comes to meet us and gives us assistance that is beyond our capabilities.

Fariba Enteshari,

Jalal al Din Rumi student/scholar

I have never been a big reader of poetry but lately I seem to keep coming across small bits of Rumi’s work.  And although no one is forcing me to read it – I am not “in school” – I find that for some reason I am drawn to his work and find a relevant truth in nearly every passage.  Perhaps this is an example of the Divine meeting me and helping me glimpse Rumi’s magnificence.

My friend Fariba Enteshari has been a Rumi student since I met her nearly twenty years ago at the Immaculate Heart College Center in Los Angeles.    While I waded through Theresa of Avila, Fariba was immersed in Rumi’s six volume book of poetry, the Mathnawi.

The Mathnawi  is 25,000 lines of lyrical verse.  It is referred to as the Persian Koran.  The verse is spoken in the voice of Rumi’s beloved muse, friend, teacher, Shams al Din.  Our bookclub recently read a novel about their relationship called The Forty Rules of Love.  

Rumi, a Koranic scholar, was a popular Imam in Koya, Turkey.   Shams was “delivered” to his doorstep and began a conversation with Rumi that, according to the stories, lasted forty-days and nights.  During that intense period of interaction, Rumi’s heart was opened.  And after Sham’s death, for the first time in his life, he began writing the poetry which has guided people for 700 years.

Indries Shah the great thinker and writer on Sufism said a great part of Sufism “must be personally communicated by means of interaction between the teacher and the learner. Too much attention to the written page can be harmful.”

This Sufism truth was probably revealed by Rumi’s and Sham’s relationship.

If you are interested in entering a conversation with a Rumi scholar, this Wednesday, March 14th, Fariba Enteshari is putting aside her writing for the day to have a Banquet of Love.  She invites anyone interested in Rumi’s poetry to come to this spiritual feast.

If you are uncertain whether you are interested in poetry or are capable of understanding Rumi’s deeper meaning, you can take heart from Indries Shah who said

“Rumi, like other Sufi authors, plants his teachings within a framework which as effectively screens its inner meaning as displays it.  This technique fulfills the functions of preventing those who are incapable of using the material on a higher level from experimenting effectively with it; allowing those who want poetry to select poetry; giving entertainment to people who want stories; stimulating the intellect in those who prized such experiences.”

Indries Shah, The Way of the Sufi, 1970.

If you are near beautiful Santa Barbara, California this Wednesday, go spend the day at La Casa Maria with Fariba and other Rumi devotees and see what message Rumi’s poetry has for you.

Banquet of Love is Wednesday March 14th 9:30-3:30 at the La Casa de Maria, in Santa Barbara, California.  Donations will be taken at the door.  To make a reservation for the $14 lunch go to www.lcdm.org or call (805) 969 – 5031.

In The Palm of My Heart

Happy Valentine's Day - cards and flowers from my children

11 –

Let us be together

Hanged by the peg of heart

Beneath the sky we adore

The sky that loves

You are coquetry of the beginning of jasmine

You spread out in my liberty

From a fearful night

From In the Palm of My Heart by Ali Al Satrawai

Pearl, Dreams of Shell

Ali Al Satrawai is a Bahraini poet, writer and journalist.  This verse came from an anthology of contemporary poetry, Pearl, Dreams of Shell compiled and translated by Hameed Al Qaed.

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