I arrive late
preceded by other epochs and shores
by sea foam
Here the shell spends its night in a wound
the rusty bells leave their thumbprints
on the air
They ask the place:
“Are those coming from the sun’s birthplace gods or killers?”
The mothers wash the newborn
the conquerors take him down from the monuments of his surprise
those who light their way with gold
and do not care
their candleholders are like daggers at night
their altars and bodies of gypsum
rise to the blood-ready suns.
I arrive late
preceded by the sea foam which follows the dead’s footsteps on the sands.
Neither the trees nor the soaring bird know me
But I know them:
The blue palm tree is the center of the earth
The dew is the morning’s vessel, the female’s water
The waterfall is the angel’s leap
What can the water say?
What can the stone tell?
Or the grass upon which they dragged the bodies?
If a breeze would emerge from its shelter it would tell!
There are continents yet to be discovered
There are rivers of blood yet to be spilled
Gold beyond gold
Then I sat down and drew a person in a waiting room and I drew a man waiting for a woman and a woman waiting for a child and I drew children waiting for children and I drew a dark
abode; an eye inside the darkness. What is the eye doing alone in the dark? And I drew a soldier asleep and dreaming of never becoming a hero.
What else did I draw?
The magicians and charlatans are followed by a flock of poets
They uttered some mysterious words and went
The young women, the lovers of marble and jasmine
were checking their wombs as they waited for birth pangs
In front of them there were children playing with their navels
The strangest thing is when you fall in your dream from the sixth floor
and do not die.
Those who survive wars are killed by their belief that they are alive.
An intermission between two illusions.
A harbor waling among women.
The Tree Was
The tree was gazing at me with its branches when I wanted to depart
but I didn’t.
I put the sunset under my arm and walked aimlessly in between hyphens.
(From `Uzlat al-Dhahab (The Solitude of Gold), Dar al-Jadid, Beirut 1992.)
A Star Slowing Before Death
He dies like one who lies down in his shadow to sleep
O how I wish to wake up in the morning
and not find the world
The yellow ponds of autumn
wait for the first low evening to depart
I touch your lips when the kiss becomes nothing but a celebration of emptiness
When you pass through the thoughts of a cloud
I listen to hear you undressing
Your nudity is beautiful after the rain falls
A blue typhoon
separates your flow from the plains.
She departed and left her nightgown in memory
He did not hammer the nails into the shoe
He hammered them into the bread loaf
and at times the body
I did not know how to be born
O you who are fenced in by a rib cage?
How can you exit your chest
and be enchanted?
Only the statue’s foot will know where
when it decides to run away from the garden
(From Najma Amam al-mawt Abta’at, (A Star Slowing Before Death), Dar an-Nahar, Beirut 1981.)
Translated by Sinan Antoon
in Banipal N° 29, Summer 2007.
We travel to go far away from the place of our birth and see the other side of sunrise. We travel in search of our childhood; of births unconceived. We travel so that unfinished alphabets complete. Let farewell be imbued with promises. Let us move far away like the twilight that accompanies us and bids us farewell. We tear up destinies and disperse their pages in the wind before we find—or fail to find—our life story in other books.
We travel towards unwritten destinies. We travel to tell those we have met that we shall return and meet again. We travel to learn the language of trees that never travel; to burnish the ringing of bells resounding in holy valleys; in search of more merciful gods; to strip the faces of strangers off the masks of estrangement; to confide to passers-by that we are passers-by, too, and our stay in memory and oblivion is temporary. We travel far away from mothers who light the candle of absence and thin the crust of time whenever they raise their hands to heaven.
We travel so we do not see our parents grow old; so we do not read their days on their faces. We travel taking ages unawares; they are wasted in advance. We travel to tell those we love that we still love them; distance cannot overpower our amazement; that exile is as sweet and fresh as our homeland. We travel so that if we returned to our homeland we would feel like immigrants everywhere. Thus, suddenly, we shake off our wings idle porches open unto the sun and onto the sea. We travel until no difference remains between air and air, water and water, heaven and hell. We mock time. We sit and look into the expanding space, watch the waves jump together like children. The sea in front of us leaves between two ships; one of them departs; the other a paper boat in the hand of a child.
We travel like the clown who moves from village to village with his animals that teach children their first lesson in boredom. We travel to trick death, letting it trail us from place to place. We continue to travel until we can no longer find ourselves in the places we travel to; until we are lost and nobody can find us anymore.
Inspired by the clouds, the sky creates its nonexistent beings.
Here, there is no room for happenstance; nor fear from what will be. No fear for the words of their composer, nor for paradise of its enormous apple.
Why don’t we sit in its shade, that apple? We see the face unseen;
we caress it - that face, and it embraces us.
… Our face it is: our double flame.
The sound evolves, the music gets louder on all tracks; the lonely is no more alone.
This morning, I think of Icarus.
Icarus is not a legend. It is the suicide the most beautiful in history.
The sole suicide that leads not unto death.
It is ascension towards the absolute.
Icarus rises, moves far away; behind him are the homeless whose only shelter is their sick bodies; their instinct that makes them one of two: a killer or a killed.
Outside consolation, outside redemption and the redeeming promise, everything vanishes - mountains and seas together, outside what comes of life and death. Outside the herb of
eternity that grows on the edge of dream, outside stay and departure. Outside what we know and what we do not know. Outside hope and despair, outside elegies and praise, I accompany the cloud to its
destiny and the light of the star after the night ends. I accompany the breeze rising from the field; I ask her not whereto it goes.
I accompany my heartbeats; that oar beating in vague depth.
You ask, “Where have we been before this day? Before we came here?”
“Had we but a memory,” you say, “one atom of memory!”
Long traveled the traveler before arriving to the earth from his mother’s womb. But the foot that stepped out of its vehicle, landed wounded and still is. Wounded was its beautiful unhurried toe far from the kiss that heals.
The body is born of the body. From which body was I born, to which body do I go off. I draw whiteness out of blindness; out of the dried up source, of weddings postponed, of the teardrop on your cheek reclining.
I draw out the whiteness from the sharpness between twin blades. I wake up to my rose, my star returning.
Life comes to us; we do not come to life. We do not know how we come. We await love and we declare war. Of joys, we pick a fruit, and of pains a fruit.
The heart flutters several times only, taking the butterfly to its end; to banks where no travelers ever reach. Its life is thus; one of lives of which the unknown blind god makes his great river.
We listen. We carefully listen as though we are prepared to receive something that shall change our life and give it essence.
The body and its violin beat together to the one who shall come from the earth. To a new woman and man like two stars in a far off sky, and between them stretches the gold of distances.
“I am your female; she sees by recoiling. She is a mixture of what she likes and what she hates.” This is what you enjoy repeating, and this is how I perceive you in two polarized extremes. I see you in that shimmer emerging from the radiance of your awakening, rising above your high spikes; one drop of it quenches the thirst of flame.
To get closer to love implies that you are getting closer to its opposite. The fire flaming in the skin of the tiger seduces you; distracts you from the tiger.
Its elegant sway is in its burning, and in its secrets, and symbols. It paces back and forth in front of you. It proceeds as if proceeding within, inside its body itself staggering. Crossing distances at full speed yet not leaving its place.
No body has anything to do with anybody.
Even when one of us is closely stuck with the other, each goes his way, and no need for a means of transportation to depart.
From snowflakes falling on lanterns of sleep, I pick up my rose. I ignite awaiting. I cut madness into halves. I say unto the alluring chanter: Release the chant.
Out of your joined thighs, like prayer slink eternal temporary rivers. When you part them and take a long breath, when you raise them high like you were climbing the air, the air thins and glows.
You melt the skyline with the smell of animal roaming around you.
I wed you to the sun, to the angel flaming in the pupil of the eye. Between ethereal words and happy flesh, I choose the happy flesh. With my two eyes, I look at its water. I choose it, and I know what hides on the other bank.
The body needs not wings to fly. The body falls not in the air even when down it falls. Supported by air on all sides, down it falls but once; itself unaware that it has fallen; it hears not its soul colliding with the earth. Others for him listen and are aware. Others who resemble him in everything. Yes, in everything … except in its death.
I see the breeze from afar; the breeze coming to me, making its way towards me, wiping the sweat off my forehead.
Alone visible in the air.
Appears to me like a shooting star; emerging out of nowhere; ending in no where. It is the infant of evening. It is doesn’t get born, nor does it die. It exchanges death and life for play.
Just like a bird’s feather, itself kidnapped; yet, it still flies.
Like the beats of a trembling heart, it rises and falls over an abyss.
This feather carries us over to our lost memoir, inscribes its first letters unawares. Composes them perhaps, and revises endlessly.
Those around me, but if they found out what’s on my mind concerning the world, they would expel me from the world.
I watch the frogs; they pound the earth with their legs. I measure their leap in the air. The rich and the poor, if they could know what I hide for them …
What frightens me most is reading intentions.
He drowning in front of us, calls for help.
Behind the glass panes
We wave our hands and smile.
When we die, someone else dies for us; whereas we stay, remaining there, where we have always been in the passion of things yet unborn.
Nothing there moves fast; not the cloud, not the dew drop. Not the morning, nor the evening. Not the geometric figures antecedent to human knowledge of architecture.
Nothing there moves fast, no body races with his days or combats his fate.
It is fear that makes us hurry. Fear that what we are waiting for should arrive and we’re not waiting. It is the concern of beauty for itself what makes us hurry; it is the system that placed the star in its position. The system that controls not only the course of the living but also the course of the dead. It is when we know not where to go and in what direction.
Nothing there moves fast.
We live in the heedlessness of the moment during which the metal is born. Two shades embrace under a tree. There, the traveler decodes the stone runes, reads in their protrusions the story of the flood that never came.
Here, there is no bosom in whose shade we grow; no smile proclaiming the incipience of the world.
He who departs, let us let him depart. Like a river, we do not deviate its course; like the floating cloud. He who departs, even if he came back to us, would not come back. Because
from the side of absence he did come back, waving with it at every moment, after absence has been from the past a secret behind the radiance of his face.
The face departs; its beauty stays. The lantern goes out; the light remains.
He who departs, let us let him depart. Let us not follow his track nor call him out. Nor regret not saying to him the last word.
Why wait; he has become outside our awaiting for him. Free, liberated?
Outside awaiting, there is no more need for the other with whom we’re done; just like him who closes a book and goes to sleep. Then, when we wake up, we see the time. We see it passing in front of our eyes carrying our bodies, all of them. They’re stabbed those bodies, but no blood flows from them.
He who departs, let us let him depart.
That noon, I stood at the seashore. You tilted your head backward and looked up to where the seagulls were hovering. That particular seagull was trying to get close to you. Got close, shrieked, but dared not get closer; as if not dared to cross non-visible borders. You stood in your place motionless. Standing, you insisted on knowing what he wanted to relay to you. On low altitude it flew swaying, pouring forth, and suddenly, it froze in its place, right above your head; its beak pointed at you.
After you stared long at it, you looked towards me and said, “The bird in the highest, is you, but why don’t you come forth? Why do you look at me as though you don’t know me? Desiring me from afar like one who desires another man’s woman. Come forth. Come and take me” …
He who departs, let us let him depart. Let us not follow his track. From now on, he shall be without a trace, light like the air. He who departs, does not know that he is departing. He follows the same path from whence he came.
Let us let him depart, he who wants to depart. We look at him engraved within us, radiant as he was the day he was. We look inside; we find what he doesn’t find within himself.
He who departs, let us let him depart in peace.
Fly bird. Fly high. Fly far away.
Continue fluttering your wings; do not rest. Oh bird, do not stop!
Translated from the Arabic by Najwa Nasr