Poetry by Tunisian poet, Asma Jelassi, and Syrian poet, Widad Nabi, translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.
by Asma Jelassi
All in all, you have finally accepted this idea:
In the midst of this large number of individuals
you are anything but an atom of dust in a deep-set fingernail.
From this perspective, you started arranging your life.
And you are watching from afar those scattered years
that resemble empty bullets on the ground
and listening to childish laughters
whose echo got lost in the whir of gunshots.
Your heart becomes a hill filled with landmines
and your back a lowland burdened by corpses.
Your hands become fixed to a colourless column.
They stripped you off your colours;
those that you spent your childhood mixing them
to draw birds and butterflies.
They dipped your wings/dreams in mud.
Then they piled them on your shoulders
until you metamorphosed into a terrible octopus.
Whenever you got rid of one arm, another one smothered you.
Now, you no longer dream of flying.
And once you have finished fixing your feet to the ground
you will throw away that heavy hammer
which you held for ages
to break locks hung between two mountains
and you will close your eyelids and shut up forever.
Why, whenever the morning broke and the sun extended its arms
between the dirty alleys of the suburbs,
you wore that obnoxious face
and you played the role of a poisonous bullet penetrating the eyes
of persons who usually await you in the streets of the city?
Where did that soft petal which you had guarded between your palms
throughout the night hide?
How did you become a desolate forest encircled
by woodsmen from every direction?
Why did your whispers which you had sent slowly
to remove the braids of your sweetheart’s hair tuft by tuft
turn into an annoying scream?
No one knew that your fangs you showed in a gloomy way
to snatch a loaf of bread from the jaws of crocodiles
and to lick a drop of water from springs guarded by snakes
were before a few hours anything but a faint light
creeping from between your lips into darkness.
No one knew how you spent your night removing shards of glass
stuck in your feet after a piece fell from the mirror of your dreams
and shattered on the asphalt without your attention …
You are not dead nor alive.
Each new morning you take your way between the crowd,
but you never wonder where that creature who carried a lamp
throughout the night to illuminate the road evaporates.
The Place Is Lit With Memory
by Widad Nabi
to visit the ruins of your house in a dream
and return without having its dust clung to your hands.
to water the withering flowers
in the neighbours’ garden
because the flowers in your house dried up under bombardment.
a geography of coercion.
—Thousands of miles separating two cities.
You left your clothes on the clothesline in the first
and in the second you extend your hands in the air
to collect your clothes from the balcony in the first.
Who can tell
your hand which is kept on the bell of your old house that,
“Houses are not for those who left them.”?
knows why flowers cry
in the balconies of happy homes
which we forsook.
On the way to your new house
there is a long avenue of nostalgia
in which you will walk forever.
When you touch the cold iron of the bus here,
a narcissus will grow on the iron handle of your house’s door there:
This is how houses are faithful to their displaced owners.
You wake up every night in the middle of your sleep.
Water is still dripping from the tap in the sink of your old kitchen.
Life would not be so bad.
It will give you a new house.
But your soul will remain a wolf
that howls every night
on the stairs of your old house.
Your picture is watching the rain dropping
out the old window.
No one notices
that the wet beech tree is crying.
grows in abandoned houses
like April’s grass,
although the place is lit with memory.