Mahmoud Darwish: What is Lost
What is Lost
In exile you choose a space to tame habit, a private space for your journal. So you write: Place is not the trap. We can say: Here we have a side street, a post office, a bread seller, a laundry, a tobacco shop, a tiny corner, and a smell that remembers …
Cities are smells: Acre is the smell of iodine and spices. Haifa is the smell of pine and wrinkled sheets. Moscow is the smell of vodka on ice. Cairo is the smell of mango and ginger. Beirut is the smell of the sun, sea, smoke, and lemons. Paris is the smell of fresh bread, cheese, and derivations of enchantment. Damascus is the smell of jasmine and dried fruit. Tunis is the smell of night musk and salt. Rabat is the smell of henna, incense, and honey. A city that cannot be known by its smell is unreliable. Exiles have a shared smell: the smell of longing for something else; a smell that resembles another smell. A panting, nostalgic smell that guides you, like a worn tourist map, to the smell of the original place. A smell is a memory and a setting sun. Sunset, here, is beauty rebuking the stranger.
But to love the sunset is not, as they say, one of the attributes of exile.
Memory, your personal museum, takes you into the realms of what is lost. A sesame field, a plot of lettuce, mint, a round sun that falls into the sea. What is lost grows in you and in the sunset, which grants what is distant the attributes of paradise and purges it of any defect. Whatever is lost is worshipped. Yet it is not so!
Rein in place, then, with the halter of expression! Carry it, just as you carry your name, not your shadow, in your imagination, not in a suitcase. In this sunset words alone are qualified to restore what was broken in time and place and to name gods that paid no attention to you and waged their wars with primitive weapons. Words are the raw materials for building a house. Words are a homeland.