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Mourid Barghouti, from Midnight and Other Poems

A Night Unlike Others

His finger almost touches the bell,
the door, unbelievably slowly,
opens.

He enters.

He goes to his bedroom.
Here they are:
his picture next to his little bed,
his schoolbag, in the dark,
awake.
He sees himself sleeping
between two dreams, two flags.

He knocks on the doors of all the rooms
- he almost knocks. But he does not.
They all wake up:
"He's back!
By God, he's back!" they shout,
but their clamour makes no sound.

They stretch their arms to hug Mohammed
but do not reach his shoulders.

He wants to ask them all
how they are doing
under the night shelling;
he cannot find his voice.

They too say things
but find no voice.

He draws nearer, they draw nearer,
he passes through them, they pass through him,
they remain shadows
and never meet.

They wanted to ask him if he'd had his supper,
if he was warm enough over there, in the earth,
if the doctors could take the bullet and the fear
out of his heart.
Was he still scared?
Had he solved the two arithmetic problems
in order not to disappoint his teacher
the following day?

Had he...?

He, too, simply wanted to say:
I've come to see you
to make sure you're alright.
He said:
Dad will, as usual, forget to take his hypertension pill.
I came to remind him as I usually do.
He said:
my pillow is here, not there.

They said.
He said.
Without a voice.

The doorbell never rang,
the visitor was not in his little bed,
they had not seen him.

The following morning neighbours whispered:
it was all a delusion.
His schoolbag was here
marked by the bullet holes,
and his stained notebooks.

Those who came to give their condolences
had never left his mother.

Moreover, how could a dead child
come back, like this, to his family,
walking
calmly
under the shelling
of such a very long
night?