Our cries, she used to say
Would scratch the moon’s windowpanes
And scrape the corners of tombstones which milked the moon
My mother set the long slope of her back against us
to interrogate the walls’ dampness
decipher saltpeter’s crumbling alphabet
translate the symbols carved on the underside of the city
which she only knew in profile
since she never ventured farther than her shopping bag
rarely crossing the uncertain borders of her lamp
city which sent us its rejected rains
and sometimes a wheezy snow which hooked its flakes into the
The planet must be cleaned up
God must be cleaned up!
My mother cried, tying her apron.
– Venus Khoury-Ghata
(trans. Marilyn Hacker)
Venus Khoury-Ghata (b. 1937) is a Lebanese poet who writes in Arabic and French. Her work often explores the tension between Western and Eastern culture. In 1959, she was named Miss Beirut and became the Arabic translator of Europe magazine. This award-winning poet has been living in Paris since 1972 and in addition to her poetic output she has written a number of novels and essays.