Saniya Salih and Mohamed Al Maghout
One poem each by Saniya Salih and her husband Mohamed Al Maghout. These translations previously appeared more beautifully on Youssef Rakha’s site here and here, with a note in the case of Al Maghout fleshing out the historical background of this early poem.
The storm takes the heart
What does that glum sun search for in its useless
round and why does its purple body come apart
and endless discs come tumbling down from its
flaming core, followed by black birds
black and crossing over like the storm
whose eyes aglow with tears we barely glimpse, they come
out from the graves of the forefathers and make for Jordan.
“A river springs from memory
from the depths of history
a river in which millions of innocent flowers have bathed.
Give me my paper boat. Give it me
so I can sail on its waves towards the river.”
………………………………………….and it threw itself
down in the river’s sweep protected by its dreams
its wings white winds which glow bright over Jordan.
“Are these scattered bones my mother?
and that sinister skull my father?”
“My revolution has no banners and no admirers.
Hell its beginning. Hell its end. Its only paradise is my soul.”
“Woes, deepen your presence so
your glow illumes the singer’s face.
My desert, close your eyes so that
the storm not take your heart. Swim
over a gale of lies and accusation
whisper in your deepest part, ‘I will be a bird
and saved’ and quickly heaven will come.”
“We were a mess of tears and blood
when the angels landed fevered
settled like crows on branches
took up our flux with their long staffs
belly to back to make their minds up
to spit on us or weep.”
Young boys these heroes and will never know being full grown.
Their faces are sad.
They carry their flags passionately like these are everything
Young boys these
who deepen freedom’s course.
Veins of fire between you and I,
Veins of dawn pull me your way
out of the waters of the ocean.
*** *** ***
The dying of 1958
Not men them flaming in the rose gardens
but cubs who roared for the last time
beneath the north rains.
They shouldered history
like fruit crates borne across the mire
through the filthy schools, the brothels of the south.
I know them.
I know chivalry
the precepts flowing
over the backseats of taxis.
In windowless rooms like lovers’ rooms like smugglers’
they were tallying their victims on addometers
and the long names were
incensing them. There
in the the great lair overlain
with powdersmoke and ink gas
was the dispute lifting
off the peach blossom
the sweating feet
the victims’ portraits
covered up in flies, and me
raising my hand like the broken meter
and no one answering. There
in the extinct rooms where the sweat bleeds where
the wilting moustaches, bent by desert wind.
I am that Civilized Man with the chestnut blaze
with creed and comb and basil leaves in hand.
I address you the tobacco running
from the corners of my mouth:
The age of Terror and Siesta, of slapping
pale boys at the barricades is past.
Nothing but the red blood now
the creak of the tables borne on backs.
Are we really to return to corvee and tillage and clouds
of Tyrian purple? Will
the silos of first laughter
burst open if we hole them
with bullets with our obscene
fangs? Are we to return?
When and why? and no one there
but the green moonlight and
the dried dung of the country.
Mother Father: two old things
of mud and cough and stark bone.
My kin My brothers:
old things of soup and snot and tattered clothes
are we to return?
When and how?
I saw your filthy socks upon the table of war
I saw father’s grave filthy as a washroom
and my worn-out mother sift the soil
in her hands
as in a lab to see:
Is this dust full of straw
and stones and nails worth all
this longing this defiance these ringing words?
This dust transported
shoe and hoof:
Is it worth this poverty this vexation the pistols
buried between thighs?
Don’t gather her up, my lord
she sees me only in the final pages, grimed
behind me thousands of mountains, the dusty valleys
Or kill her
…………………In my eyes
the coldness of the Caesars
In my forearm rock millions
of empty arms.
Kill her, kill
the walls, the cars, the tractors shovelling mud
but let me raise my hand up to your face, so
to tell you of the small stars
the buses’ on-off din the millions
of noses and of eyes we collide with
under veil of thunder.
Let me show you the prodigious seethe
of experience and grievance, here
between your mouth, heart and history
hard and pointed as a beak.
No I will not stand behind the table three-legged or tri-horned
I shall not turn my gaze from you
if there is no girl undressing
or no pot steaming. I saw you
bleeding on a step upon the flight of stairs
O dry-eyed lover
and the fat dripping on your secret pages.
There in the distant bell-wired rooms I saw you greeting
everyone but me, tossing your cigarettes
to everyone but me and me
five fingers five nails like the rest
stood before you a dumb idol
my tear tracks straight as pines.
O golden god if you but knew
generations and generations shall live by the grace of these fingers
nations and nations by these hands tattooed like those of Bedouin.
I know. Why? because
I am poor and nothinged
and I stand upon the river’s other bank
on the black hot dying side, side bowed
like a waterfall beneath
the weight of small udders
and the bras ripped at the crossroads.
………………………………………..I have set
my case on my back like a bird to cross
trenches brimming with blood and addometers
and my cigarette was level
with peaks by the thousand
on thousands of forests my tears came down
and I contemplated accusation and control
the veils fluttering down in autumn
pissing beneath the flaming sun
and hurling peaks
like gravel in the valleys.
Sad and terrified I was
craning my head like a songbird
through the windows and the lanterns
aflight above my hair. I saw
the stabbed doors
the feet of heroes deep in sward
the blue hills which had ever trembled at my tread
gleaming before me like mule teeth
teeth solitary weeping down
a long history of plunder and ululation
of grown men jostling at the urinals.
There is a small village in my arms
a spoon small and yellow as the bulbul in my garden.
Crimson blood you shall never know my wound.
Distant hunger you shall never know my mouth.
Rivers from humidifiers
of green air, blue, of air sieved clear
shall not shift this lilac grease this sweat
hanging like the sword from my belt.
My lord forgive me
I am cockeyed as you know
I see things only grimly, fallen
I look with your green eyes O
scion of Tadmor Sumer the other
I look to these tears shed in the tomes.
It is not waiting this
which we endure, it is
gum at the base of the foot,
ugliness in the cannon’s mouth.
The heroes’ ashes drop
into your ashtray
inside you slops like Sidon’s waves
the blood of children.
What do you know of patience and struggle
of licking stamps in the frost? My lord
you have denied me my portion my small portion
gleaned from the fields of all the world
and rolling in a whisper round
the edge of whip and pan. Never shall we triumph
while the owl cries. Never
and the sword divided.
Night holds its spider like a lily in its hands
and sings upon a tree somewhere
in the far East.
Gather your fingernails. Lay them here
before me on the table. Gather all
the lips that have kissed
and the breasts defiled, here
with the newspapers, the pipes, the instruments
of vengeance. I cannot believe
(the sun is beautiful,
the windows at play
one with another
are lambs at pasture)
that my daughter crawls now at the horizon
flows like water over the threshold.
I want to swallow that child and bury her
in my entrails like the secret. I want a scythe
to gather those blue eyes,
a Barbary yacht to fetch my girl and I
to a lead tomb behind the seas
where the moon glows
and languor flows with dream
from the corners of your eyes.
Entomb your children all, rip them
like fake currency. O thee
rank as mire: lean back your heads
a little to let the blue air pass, to whistle
on the stairs.
From the window I see
a cloud strolling
a child-sized village drawing near
to me, a whole green village all
its fields and wedding feasts and birds
a butterfly that settles on my collar.
Ah summer! Summer, comrades!
Words are gummed the guns are gummed
If you want victory or
the old days, what am I to do? I fire
into your head a small bullet,
a small hole like a nostril which saves
a whole people
from yearning, from stammering,
from victims dragged by their moustaches.
Tyrant, listen, your blood is not
Phoenecian blood nor Arab
and your bald head does not bear the crown we passed down in our stories.
We want a hollowed head in which a whole umma may sit.
Your smooth skin its pores imported never
dirtied never flayed in the rose gardens never
shall the breeze of exile cross it.
My lord, I am not hungry, my eyes
are blue loaves.
I respect you
as an angry man who has lost things
dear to me and meaningless. I lost
carelessness and pride,
the only two breasts that were mine in this world.
I have left my stomach my fingernails my pride
in the interrogation centres and worn-out
climbed the stairs past shaven heads bedewed
to talk with you of the sourness
of a mouth in the morning
of sticky collars, of the poverty
that grips me like a garotte.
Let our eyes meet not
as enemies estranged but as enemies
with weapons drawn
in the sheep pens and treed valleys
where there are no pavements which know me
nor sun striking the blades, where all we see’s
the glint of fences and stenographers’ machines.
The long miles we crossed beneath the wing of darkness
were no longer long no longer short they were
sunned graves unmarked
rotten bones of beaten heroes
who died with scraps between their teeth and cash rolls
glistening in their pockets and their guts
Not from hunger nor carelessness but for
sake of the difficult, the sifted words
for sake of the storylines and the rainclouds
driven farmwards by the lash.
Bones of the whole civilization
Bones of death and struggle and defiance all
crumbling apart and blanching like the burning
beloved, for whom
our selves we sacrifice,
O ships of honour
no port your own,
we know you
are prideful, you
do not ask for help.
Should they tear up our bodies
to the number of your stars
split like sponge our children
and strew their blood across
prologues and plinths, we
shall not betray you O
beloved. Ever from behind
the streets and stars and brush
the damp pulleys and blue tears
shall we observe your birds and villages
whirled and stormed, sheets
of newsprint in the street.
Ever shall we infix like
pincers at your border.
Old woman abed with her clothes and shoes and wrinkles her
keys at her belt: Do you not long for your far-off and aging child?
I am hungry
through my shirt’s buttonhole I see
my entrails’ edge.
Such rich and powerful poetry! Once again the translation is incredible.