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Fady Joudah was born in Austin, Texas, in a Palestinian refugee home. He is a physician of internal medicine and a field member of Doctors Without Borders as well as a poet and translator. His works have appeared in several journals and anthologies. His translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s most recent poetry is collected in The Butterfly’s Burden from Copper Canyon Press.



© 2008 Fady Joudah

"In the Calm"

© 2008 Fady Joudah

English version


I think of god as a little bird who takes
To staying close to the earth,
The destiny of little wings
To exaggerate the wind
And peck the ground.

I see Haifa
By my father and your father’s sea,
The sea with little living in it,
Fished out like a land.

I think of a little song and
How there must be a tree.

I choose the sycamore
I saw split in two
Minaret trunks on the way
To a stone village, in a stone-thrower mountain.

Were the villagers wrong to love
Their donkeys and wheat for so long,
To sing to the good stranger
Their departure song?

I think of the tree that is a circle
In a straight line, future and past.
I wait for the wind to send
God down, I become ready for song.

I sing, in a tongue not my own:
We left our shoes behind and fled.
We left our scent in them
Then bled out our soles.
We left our mice and lizards

There in our kitchens and on the walls.
But they crossed the desert after us,
Some found our feet in the sand and slept,
Some homed in on us like pigeons,
Then built their towers in a city coffin for us . . .

I will probably visit you there after Haifa.
A little bird to exaggerate the wind
And lick the salt off the sea of my wings. I think

God reels the earth in when the sky rains
Like fish on a wire.

And the sea, each time it reaches the shore,
Becomes a bird to see of the land
What it otherwise wouldn’t.
And the wind through the trees
Is the sea coming home.
The Tea and Sage Poem
English version

The Tea and Sage Poem

At a desk made of glass,
In a glass walled-room
With red airport carpet,

An officer asked
My father for fingerprints,
And my father refused,

So another offered him tea
And he sipped it. The teacup
Template for fingerprints.

My father says, it was just
Hot water with a bag.
My father says, in his country,

Because the earth knows
The scent of history,
It gave the people sage.

I like my tea with sage
From my mother’s garden,
Next to the snapdragons

She calls fishmouths
Coming out for air. A remedy
For stomach pains she keeps

In the kitchen where
She always sings.
First, she is Hagar

Boiling water
Where tea is loosened.
Then she drops

In it a pinch of sage
And lets it sit a while.
She tells a story:

The groom arrives late
To his wedding
Wearing only one shoe.

The bride asks him
About the shoe. He tells her
He lost it while jumping

Over a house-wall,
Breaking away from soldiers.
She asks:

Tea with sage
Or tea with mint?

With sage, he says.
Sweet scent, bitter tongue.
She makes it, he drinks.
Additional Notes On Tea
English version

Additional Notes On Tea

In Cairo a boy’s balcony higher than a man’s deathbed.

The boy is sipping tea,

The view is angular like a fracture.

Surrounding the bed, women in wooden chairs.

They signal mourning with a scream.

Family men on the street run up the stairs and drink raven tea.

On the operating table in Solwezi a doctor watches a woman die.

Tea while the anesthetic wears off,

While the blade is waiting, tea.

The doctor says the woman knows god is sleeping

Outside heaven in a tent.

God is a refugee dreaming of tea.

Once upon a time an ocean married a sea to carry tea around.

Land was jealous.

So it turned into desert and gave no one wood for ships.

And when ships became steel,

Land turned into ice.

And when everything melted, everything tasted like tea.

Once upon a time there was a tea party in Boston.

Tea, like history, is a non sequitur.

I prefer it black. The Chinese drink it green.