How hope became green
translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham
Hope means that you fight windmills, not like Don Quixote, no, because he fought windmills believing they were devils with long arms. Hope is when you do exactly what I do, fight windmills knowing perfectly well that they are just windmills.
I was trying to deconstruct hope into its basic elements, when I discovered that it was made up of a pale moon that appeared over Damascus in the 1960s and the faint gleam I noticed in the eyes of a woman I ate like a loaf of bread one hot Beirut evening in July 2016. Yes, I was trying to deconstruct this recognised thing known as hope into its original dreams, fascinated by its details, drawn to the orange magic that makes children dismantle their toys, when Jacques Derrida stepped out of a second-hand overcoat given to me by a Swedish poet one Scandinavian winter, muttering in French something that resembled a cat sleeping on a sofa on a hot day in Granada. I asked him in plain Arabic: ‘You were born in Algeria, so why don’t we talk in Arabic?’ He said in plain French, ‘Don’t deconstruct hope. You’ll end up as desolate as Chernobyl, as wet as water, as faint as the neighing of an Arab bay horse as evening descends in al-Andalus.’ Then he added as if adding salt to the dish, ‘Where’s the kitchen?” And at the same unhistorical moment that I pointed towards the desert, he said with the familiarity of a Greek poet talking about the sea, “I’ll make coffee to help the night stay awake.” Then he said something in a language whose figurative meanings I wasn’t familiar with, but Google Translate said that it meant he was concerned to make sure I wouldn’t die from an overdose of cocaine on a night that was like a Tahitian woman in a Gauguin painting. I was trying to sneak into the meaning by jumping over the wall surrounding me, when a pale moon over Damascus fell on that scene from a virtual world, so I discovered desire and found I had an inexhaustible spring of poems that were trying to explain water and tame hope. Do you remember when I said to you in an earlier poem that I believed there was some hope for some hope? Fine, the situation has become more complicated now. In the latest status update it goes like this: I think there’s some hope for some hope for some hope.
When people saw how Syrians were dying so that hope could live, they began feeling
ashamed of the fact that they weren’t feeling ashamed.
– Cut –
Hope is a logical analysis of a stroke of luck. The Divine Comedy isn’t funny. My mother says death is a right. The dictator issues a law prohibiting suicide. Anybody who breaks the law and tries to commit suicide is sentenced to death. Love in the time of cholera is a scientific fact. You live in a city where the rain comes down on time, and I live in a city where seagulls die of old age on a summer’s day. You are memories. I take a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower that’s made of iron stolen from Algeria. In the cold we wear Gogol’s overcoat. We die twice over. You ask why I called the poem hope is green. Well, it has a direct link to your green shoes. When you wear your green shoes, hope becomes green, this blue planet turns into a green planet, my red blood cells become my green blood cells, the yellow sunflowers in Van Gogh’s paintings become green sunflowers, the Black Sea becomes the Green Sea, the Red Sea becomes the Green Sea, black Damascus becomes green. Clouds, dresses, dictionaries are green, and memories too. My eyes, originally green, become greener still, and my heart turns into a forest.
How beautiful that a person can have hope, where I live in Stockholm, and Stockholm for those who don’t know it is a city for Neanderthals and it’s hard for a homo sapiens like me to get used to its gloom. Although I don’t deny that I love it passionately, unfortunately it’s a one-sided love, as Stockholm doesn’t share my feelings. If April is the cruellest month as Eliot says, then Stockholm is the cruellest city, as I say. But there is something important concerning hope that Stockholm can offer to a migrant without hope. In Stockholm you can buy a lottery ticket for 46 Swedish kronor and on Saturday, like every Saturday, your ticket loses and you buy another one. So, for 46 Swedish kronor you buy hope for a week and seeing that the year has 52 weeks, you could buy hope for a whole year for just 2392 kronor, which equals 273 dollars according to the exchange rate at the time of writing. God, hope is so cheap!
– Cut –
The girl working in the casino says to me: ‘Don’t worry. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’
I say to her: ‘What about what happens in Syria?’
– Cut –
Oblivion is not to remember, hope is to remember things that haven’t happened.
Ghayath Almadhoun is a Palestinian poet born in Damascus, Syria in 1979. He has lived in Stockholm since 2008. A translation into Swedish of a selection of his poems was awarded the Klas de Vylders Stipindiefond for immigrant writers in 2010. Almadhoun has published four collections of poetry, the latest, Adrenalin, in Milan in 2017. English translations of Almadhoun’s poems have appeared in many places, including art installations, online and print magazines and the Guardian newspaper. An English translation of Adrenalin was published by Action Books USA in 2017. ‘How hope became green’ is a newer poem, written in Arabic in early 2018.
Catherine Cobham is a lecturer in Arabic language and literature and head of the department of Arabic and Persian at the University of St Andrews. She has translated a number of contemporary authors from Arabic, including Naguib Mahfouz, Mahmoud Darwish, Hanan al-Shaykh and Fuad al-Takarli. She has written a number of articles in academic journals and co-written with Fabio Caiani The Iraqi Novel: Key Writers, Key Texts (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).