My mother’s coffee,
Mother’s brushing touch.
Childhood is raised in me,
Day upon day in me.
And I so cherish life
Because if I died
My mother’s tears would shame me.
Set me, if I return one day,
As a shawl on your eyelashes, let your hand
Spread grass out over my bones,
Christened by your immaculate footsteps
As on holy land.
Fasten us with a lock of hair,
With thread strung from the back of your dress.
I could grow into godhood
Commend my spirit into godhood
If I but touch your heart’s deep breadth.
Set me, if ever I return,
In your oven as fuel to help you cook,
On your roof as a clothesline stretched in your hands.
Weak without your daily prayers,
I can no longer stand.
I am old
Give me back the stars of childhood
That I may chart the homeward quest
Back with the migrant birds,
Back to your awaiting nest.
Translated by A.Z. Forman.
“To My Mother” is one of Darwish’s most famous poems. It was written when the young poet was in an Israeli prison as a way to reconcile with his mother and is addressed to her in the form of a letter.
The poem begins by stating that the poet yearns for three things: his mother’s bread, coffee, and touch. In the second stanza, the imprisoned Darwish asks his mother for protection and uses words that are associated with concealment to articulate his need for her, as seen in the following lines:
Take me, if I come back one day
As a scarf for your eyelashes
And cover my bones with grass
In the same stanza, Darwish also suggests that his mother is a saint who can purify him and grant him sanctification from his current dire circumstances:
Baptized by the purity of your ankle
Pull my shackles . . .
With a tuft of hair . . .
With a thread gleaming at the hem of your garment
Perhaps I will become
Become a God . . .
If I touch the bottom of your heart!
We can see, in the third and last stanza, that Darwish feels old and wishes for his mother to remind him of happier times — those of his childhood — and asks to be returned to the warmth of her nest.
Analysis by Lydia Marouf