‘She Stretched Out Her Hand’: A Translator’s Tribute to Mourid Barghouti

By Shaimaa Abulebda

My first memory of reading a poem by Mourid Barghouti (1944-2021) goes back to the tenth grade. I was reading “غمزة” (“A Wink”) from his “قصائد مختارة” (Selected Poems), and I was fascinated by how Mourid managed to give such a sense of movement to his words. It was as if the scene had materialized before my eyes. I could see the movements of the shoulders, the knees, and the feet. And I was enchanted by how he portrayed it, how he built a whole story, and how he mentioned every little detail of the dabke dancer. Instantly, Mourid became one of my favorite authors. Years later, I read “رأيت رام الله” (I Saw Ramallah) and “ولدت هناك، ولدت هنا” (I Was Born There, I Was Born Here).

So it was only natural that I read his last poetry collection “استيقظ كي تحلم” (Wake Up to Dream) after it came out in 2018. The poems of this collection are something like tributes: to his wife Radwa Ashour, to his family, to Mahmoud Darwish, and even to trees.

One of the poems that stuck with me was “Maddat Yadaha.” The reality of the poem hit me hard. It is horrifying that when you read it; you immediately think “this must have happened to many Arab children!” When I was thinking about Mourid a short while ago, this poem came up to mind, so I decided to translate it.

This translation is my humble tribute to the late poet whose words shall live on in our hearts.


She Stretched Out Her Hand

Dust-covered, barefoot, sitting in the dirt

among the rows of tattered tents

in front of her, a plate passed out after a long wait,

from an aid committee:

a lick of soup on her nose

a piece of bread in her hand.

A foreign photographer approaches

to take a photo that will sum up the misery of the camp

and catch the eye of the editor-in-chief beyond the sea.

A three- or four-year-old girl

whose people drowned in that sea

stretched out her right arm

toward the tall journalist

as if pointing out a star

to offer him a slice of bread

assuming, like her, he hadn’t eaten in three days.

مدّت يدها

،مغبرّةً، حافيةً، جالسةً على التراب

بين صفوف الخيام التي بدا عليها الاهتراء

أمامها صحنٌ وزّعته بعد طول انتظار

إحدى لجانِ الإغاثة

على أنفها لحسةٌ من الحِساء

.وفي يدها بعض رغيف

اقترب منها مصور أجنبيّ

ليلتقط صورة تلخّص بؤسَ المخيّم

وتعجبُ رئيس التحرير ما وراء البحر

الطفلةُ ذات السنوات الثلاث أو الأربع

التي مات أهلها في ذلك البحر

مدّت ذراعها اليمنى على آخرها

نحو الصحفيّ الطويل القامة

كأنها تشير إلى نجمة

لتطعمه قطعةَ خبزْ

.ظانّةً أنه، مثلها، لم يأكل منذ ثلاثة أيام


Shaimaa Abulebda is a Palestinian writer and translator. She holds a Master of Social Sciences and Humanities in Comparative Literature with an emphasis on fantasy literature. She has published in ArabLit Quarterly. She blogs at shaimaaabolebdah.wordpress.com/.

Mourid Barghouti (1944 – 2021) was a prolific and beloved Palestinian poet and writer, and the husband of Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour.