Reading Mahmoud Darwish: A Polemical Note
Some years ago, I read Darwish's famous poem "Identity Card," thinking of how we seem to need plastic and passes, ink, paper and photographs ----legitimate or forged documents ---to move through and across geopolitical territories. Is it not strange that we require inscriptions to authenticate our flesh, our blood and bones, our cognitive activities?
"Identity Card" is a finely executed act of self-fashioning, proof of what and how symbols signify. In Darwish's case, the signifying and significance are apparently anti-Zionist. It is the trace of an Arab, a Palestinian who sends words as weapons of self-defense into real and imagined space. As luck would have it, I had written "I Didn't Ask to be a Palestinian" before I read "Identity Card." I was not under his influence in the poetic appropriation of identity, despite the empathy that links his poem and mine. Links matter. The joy of linking informs what I think of his epic lyric " The 'Red Indian's ' Penultimate Speech to the White Man" from If I Were Another. Trans Fady Joudah. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. I say with due caution that this poem is superior to "Identity Card" as an aesthetic critique of "the ideology/ of madness." One of my paternal great-grandmothers was no more named "Red Indian" than her husband was named "Negro." It is a truth, acknowledged by the cosmos, that in their pathetic love/hate affair with symbol and substance, human beings are damned to rarely see what is uncertainly actual. I suppose the very best poets on Earth do blacken our eyes and our minds to help us see better.
The illegal, alien entity that calls itself "the white man" is at one with the bogus entity that calls itself "the black man" and other diversely mixed and thoroughly raced and gendered entities in America in forgetting what/who decimated indigenous peoples and continues to rape and violate the Earth that belongs to them and to us. Darwish, thousands of miles away from the Father of Waters, knew "the stars/are illuminated speech…if you stared into them you would read our story entire:" I salute Mahmoud Darwish for helping me to remember a few things which #ultimately matter.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
January 23, 2016