Carol Sansour: In the Time of the Apricots (The Complete Text)

Greek Orthodox service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Christopher Anderson, Greek Orthodox service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 2007.


Way in

Traffic lights


Separation wall

Jacir Palace

Amal Butchery

Azza Camp


United Nations Relief and Works Agency rubbish

New street

Building stones

Pebbles Sand Bulldozer


Cars cars cars

Restaurants restaurants restaurants

Monastery monks

Nativity guards

Tourist police



Presidential palace






And in varying attempts

we beseech our destinies

knowing we will be defeated

for God

the gods

the djinn

the angels and the devils

the sultan

and the headman

are in a closed meeting


and ongoing.


I asked my believer friend to accompany me to the Burial of Christ. I have not voluntarily entered a church to attend mass for a long time. I climb up next to her in the UNRWA van which I call the tank because of its size. She drives us quickly into the presence of the Lord.

As if time has stood still. The same old faces staring inside and outside, giving the signal of acceptance or rejection. We take our seats as the Rosary Sister begins to say the prayers before mass, so that people will stop chatting. Just as I was thirty years ago, I am scared of nuns, the Rosary Sisters especially. You never know when one of them will lose her mind to slap someone on the face without warning.

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!

She is become as a widow, that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces is become tributary!

She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks;

Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her…

The place has filled up faster than I imagined. The scouts enter trying to impose some order. A few moments and mass will begin. Chaos. I examine the choir corner to make sure Miss Lorette, my city’s own Fairuz, is there.

There she is! She looks like herself forty years ago. The same icons, too. I see myself as a cub scout criticising the priest every time he reads a text that cites Israel.

O Jerusalem,

O Jerusalem,

Return to the Lord thy God.

With complete reverence my friend follows the readings and the psalms. A plastic seat is added alongside me, a new prayerful soul latched on. Again and again he sneezes into his hand. I pray the priest won’t ask us to shake hands. I kneel in flight from the possibility. I think of ebola, how it can eliminate the faithful in their entirety.

I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.

He hath led me and caused me to walk in darkness, and not in light.

My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.

He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.

In his sermon the priest urges the flock to take up their cross. He mentions Isis repeatedly: “Isis breaks our cross but in each of us there is a little Isis.” Father! One moment, Father. Look, see us. Each of us carries a cross bigger and heavier than they can bear. “Each of us rejects the cross,” the priest continues. Father, please! I’m not Isis, I don’t have a little Isis inside me. “Each of us rejects pain,” he continues. Father, please Father. Slow down. Don’t confuse Tom with Harry…

O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.

The scouts get ready to carry Christ’s coffin and stage a symbolic funeral in the church courtyard. The faithful gather around the coffin and exit. The church empties except for some old people, my friend and me. A faint voice calls my name.

“How are you?”

“I recognised you by your mother’s eyes.”

“What is the Gulf like?”

“You only have one child?”

“Have your brothers and sisters married, then?”

The Rosary Sister comes up to us. My heart begins to pound. In her stern voice she reminds us we are in the presence of Christ our Lord. From the bottom of my heart I thank her for saving me.

I am the grieving mother, no one to console me…

The bell tolls its grief, the funeral procession returns to the church.

It is fronted by the Palestinian flag and women in black. They congregate at the altar. At this moment the Palestinian Authority representative and his advisor back out. The priest announces the burial of Christ.

The roads to Jerusalem in mourning,

All her gates are askew.

Her priests groan,

Her virgins weep.

She is bitter.

The faithful jostle for the flowers on Christ’s coffin. “I was a daughter of the flock,” so I introduce myself to the priest when he hands me two flowers. He invites me to tomorrow’s prayer at seven pm. I smile, or we both do.

I catch up with my friend before she leaves in her transnational tank. She asks me how I feel. I confess I am happy with Christ’s burial.

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.



I could take a bite off the sun

to stop the fire from dying inside me.

I could swallow a stormy sea

so that my anger will not ebb.

I would yield to all possibilities

if I could see you without restraint.



All the letters – talismans,

and the words are riddles.

Between the alef and the yaa,

metaphor, metonymy and pun.

Beginning and end,

place and time,

lover and beloved and homeland:

puzzles, puzzles, puzzles.



In the beginning were the apricots

The first home

Earth sizzling

Beetle crackles

In the time of the apricots

Early summer’s stories

of Platonic love

The alleyway: tired dogs

and annoying neighbours

In the time of the apricots

The mornings green, yellow

and honey hued

The itinerant ice cream vendor

calling out in the afternoon

The smell of burning sugar

Children playing in the dust

while my mother makes coffee

and milk and tea

My mother

Always my mother

The greatest infidelities

and the harshest losses

and the longest exile

In the time of the apricots



I sleep and I dream. A dream unworthy of true revolutionaries (so it will be said). I make love at the street corner. This must be the Bab Al-Amud intersection. I don’t see my lover’s face nor do I hear him groan. Trucks and armoured vehicles go past us. We tremble as if taken by a summer wind. I hurriedly cross the street. I wave to him with my hand. I see his fleeing face from a distance. Nothing in him resembles me. I am ravenous for things. I sit at the road’s edge. I watch people crowding. And I dream that in my dream I am conceiving a Hassan.

Dishevelled. Born at twenty. Knows only his mother and the street. We walk together to the house. He talks to me longingly of the battle. We did not give in, he laughs. I confess my fear. He makes me tea. A pain below my stomach forces me into the foetal position. He draws the covers over me. Rocks me as a child. You people have never known happiness, you were weaned on fear. I sleep to the rhythm of his voice. Illusory air raids. A breaking of the sound barrier wakes me. Time is still silent in this place.

I browse the satellite channels. The way people change their stance, it shames me. I start tidying up. This is what I usually do to exorcise a ghost. Everything in its place. Except me.

I remember that Palestine is still on my list of priorities.

I curse certainty and place. I do not curse time this time.

I curse certainty and place. I do not curse time this time.



I write to you knowing why it has to be a letter

Extra space for floundering

and exposing the ego

or death

But today it is life

I don’t know

As for the subject

I smoked every day of the happy Eid and of course I am not happy

This human shit is a life sentence

and I don’t know if any of us has managed to elude it without using some specific sense or many sensations

I was those people? Then what have I become?

There can be no question about chattering

Either it is or it isn’t

I stay quiet, do not open my mouth with a word

and simply feel a pain

Why must it be us who have to leave?

Why can’t the minority go and kill itself or find someone to kill it?

I have a genuine desire for a nuclear bomb to fall over the intellectual class

I no longer see any need for discussion

Either the world can see

or it does not want to see

Other than that there are no possibilities

My neighbour invited me to dinner

and he had along friends of his that I didn’t know

For the first time I felt no desire to add anything

or even to differ

There just was no desire

I was overcome by a sweet feeling of despair

Maybe I was simply happy to see them in hell

How can you be right and they wrong?

The truth is there is nothing

in the most general sense

We swim and we dive so we can find something

in the middle of this dump called the homeland the people God

If God and the people had no homelands maybe there would be something

Digression is the purpose

My dear

I write to you to keep my soul’s beat

It goes and comes back in place unmoving

But the beat stops or slows down or hits hard

Hard yeah you don’t use this word

For a while my head has not emptied

It is empty now

as if I’ve given up

I felt a drum breaking

I feel indebted to some person

perhaps you

for being away from public affairs

or rather from politics in the narrow sense

I don’t pretend it no longer concerns me

but it concerns me in different ways

There is space to reduce the self flagellation or pay attention to the self

I admit I find myself doubting the point of this

But at the same time I enjoy the space

The rules of the Popular Front its impotent rules still bore into my bones

“We are the workers we are the farmers

We go through the struggle we are the proletarians”

No regrets

And I might make the same choices again given the chance

But I might start looking for myself earlier

Send me pictures

I want to see

even though I prefer hearing to seeing

and touching to tasting

and smelling to everything

Completely denuded of everything




I shall plough


and move on

Out of your soul’s press

and your body’s distillery

I shall be drunk on your last breath

In the palms of your hands

I shall place all of me

All time will pass

Me and you


we shall be



I look for the reasons I’m hurting. I sweat, I cough, I feel dizzy and I pass out for an hour. The sound of the television and Nadim’s laughs as he watches his favourite programme wake me. I recollect my extremities and sit my body down hoping to get better. I raise the computer screen and click the addresses of the news sites I am used to browsing daily. Nothing new has happened. The same headlines about the same events and characters. The president announces, the minister decides, the intellectual criticises and the masses – may you be compensated.

A knot in my throat, the bitter taste sharp in my mouth. I get in touch with a small number of friends, hoping their news will instil some kind of comfort or reassurance in my heart. Their news is as it was yesterday and the day before that. A new job, a marriage, children, a summer vacation, a project on its way to collapsing, travel to a different country, a family dispute over an inheritance, a relative on the brink of death, a dear one dead, a new car, a participation in an international conference on some old international topic, an infidelity, a divorce. An endless list of the same news.

I get out of bed. I stick my face into the pane of my window, which overlooks nothing. Two empty eyes looking at me. I ignore them. Very cold, this glass. An Asian worker under thirty is excavating the waste container. The stink must be deadly in this stifling heat. Forty-five degrees Celsius. I can’t make out the sun. The sky is overcast as if pregnant with rain. Exactly like the waste container. A false pregnancy.

The mobile phone ring forces me to answer. I am no longer emotionally tied to my work. It is Lobna asking for help. I answer her with knowledge and confidence. I hang up and head to the kitchen.

Water, withered lemons and a piece of cheese are all my fridge contains. I make coffee for myself and crawl in shame to the battle ground. There are no armies or generals. My bed is crawling with holy and unholy books, love letters, messages of enmity. Standing sentinel over it is a computer, a journal and my little, private phone. I think of my next steps. I have to find out how the knight’s battle with the windmills ended. I dive into my virtual world. Cartoons and jokes. Silly articles by the opposition and the partisanship, superstitions, titles, calendars, programmes of travel and accommodation. Nothing in this world of mine is impossible, but nothing in it is attainable. This nowhere place is killing me. It alone contains the seasons and the plains, the protest and the general strike, amusement and addiction.

I long for a power cut. I’m scared. I decide to doze in the hope that I’ll wake up to a different dream. I hear Mohamed Mounir’s voice saying, “Never bet on time, time never finished a tale.” I change my mind about sleeping. I call Nadim. We sit together looking for peoples’ triumphs in history books, maybe we can learn something.



I don’t know if I’ll ever learn

to repulse a pain that lurks by my heart

and a flood of longing at the threshold of memory waiting for a moment of weakness/strength

to overrun my whole body

I don’t know if I’ll ever learn

But I do know

I will never hesitate to live

with the question

with bewilderment

with jealousy

with joy

with pining

with the sublime

with ecstasy

with power

with coercion

with distance



It may be that the idea of Arab nationalism precisely is the idea of the state of Israel

Artifice and project

It may be that the breakdowns we are witnessing are an occasion to reformulate who we are and what we are here to defend

But to be using those breakdowns to settle vengeful, tribal, nationalist scores

It may be that this is justification enough for all that is happening and will happen to us in the Arab world



As if since forever

we’d play “My Princess”

I make you up

and dress you in flowers and beads

then I take your picture

We’d sit on the swing on our high balcony

you holding the binoculars

I drunk on the view

We’d watch the roof of an imaginary lover named “His Arse is the Moon”

Pick anemones and yellow roses

You’d be barefoot

and in the grass we’d hide secrets

We’d go on talking until the cock, fed up of us, crowed

and the sun rose from the Dead Sea

Humidity moistened our blankets

You could gauge the magnitude of the topic from the size of the hillocks of pumpkin seed shells on the kitchen table and the rate of the shelling

The job: an ounce

The family: two ounces

Love: a kilo + chocolate bars

We would play “My Princess”

And I’d take your picture



With each new day of distance the taste of death draws nearer

Spaces contract and thoughts fragment in search of an exile where a reunion can be celebrated

Then I know as my mother knew that the glint in my eyes has gone out

that our appointment will be as one dreaming

of drunkenly dancing over the grave of his loved ones

insane, selfish, legendary with no reckoning

of the hours or the footsteps

How it would be if it was for me how it would be



I was looking for a friend to pardon my offences

and to help me pick up what remained of me, which was being freighted

I abridged my life

All I thought I needed was over- and underwear

How much do I strip myself in this new nothingness and feel the cold

“An exile is the land that takes us far towards the stranger”

I didn’t get it but I was attracted to Khalid so I liked the words

The songs’ echoes now boom like air raids and glitter bombs

“An exile is the soul that goes far from our land towards the beloved”

And how can exile be without land or beloved

Staying is hard, so is parting

Laughing is hard, so is crying

The lighthearted joke is hard while I yearn to be in you and for you to be in me

All states become absurd


Nothing about any of it is romantic and all the steps

are alphabetical

As for the subject


Pluck me out of you

I know you tried and failed

Pluck you out of me

I’ll try and if I fail at suicide

My love and grief will be such I will say

No grief no sorrow



And while we are aware of our profound sadness

we force our bodies to pass through infinite tunnels

where the world is preoccupied with perfecting its plans

to eliminate our children

Q: You are an Arab artist?

A: Me? God forbid! I am a criminal, thank God. God was merciful and kind to me.



We are all aware of the possibilities

His girlfriends consecrate their chests and their thighs for life should he appear

“My mother will be the most beautiful of refugees if we are forced to leave” he reminded them

The screens get smaller, the absurdity bigger

Down with the tyrant



An old hairdo

A mummy with garish nails

Verses in the same tone

Chairs that pay no attention to the size of the sitter

Weather likely to rain heavily

Broken traffic lights

A funnel of cigarettes

A book bored of stopping at the same page

Young men complaining of love



Redness in the eye

A pain that strikes the leg

Backside muscle convulsion

Tongue knot

Calling an emergency room that is asleep

A slutty virgin

A flower on abandoned land

Faeces in artesian wells

Tearing through a drum

Prostitute power

Religious bias

A search for a bedroom for a fille de joie

Bathing in a sea without waves

Drinking a cheap shot of whiskey on the sixty-third floor

Smiling at a reception

Arguing with a fool

It’s all prattle



Thus is the homeland at the dawn of every morning

The revolution will never start



I sold my soul to twenty merchants

who traded it for a rocket

locally manufactured

I sold it in return for pictures of a school being bombed

and mothers losing their minds

I sold my soul and saw only

repetitive copies of verses and sayings

that the devil would be ashamed of chanting

I sold it and I cursed all the applause and the wailing

while they were buying a rocket

to aim at my chest once I proclaim

that Palestine is not a cause



The mornings green, yellow

and honey hued

In the time of the apricots

The smell of burning sugar

Children playing in the dust

while my mother makes coffee

and milk and tea

My mother

In the time of the apricots

Always my mother

Translated from the Arabic by Youssef Rakha