Translated by Abdul Kader El Janabi


I would like to elegize upon that man.
Me the deformed and the ousted
In those cloudy countries
Where the horses neigh
And the moon rears like an animal
Outside of the fatherland
I would like to elegize upon that man
And carry his coffin like a cigarette in my hand.
For twenty years
I had seen him raising his braids with his hand
Waving his whip over our occupied territories
And his hunting dogs rattle with their metal collars
Inside a fog perforated by bullets.

I was a naive child
With viscous eyes
And hair flowing
Like wool over my shoulder
I used to sleep in trunks
Travel in trucks
And climb the fir trees to the ridge,
In order to see the bulb of his hair
And the beaches of his mouth
To see his white jawbone,
While he is biting breasts and vegetables;
To see the love and the misery from high
I raise my trousers and whisper like a bird:
I am bored, O lord.
Dispatch me with your goods
And your caps somewhere else
Write my name down on the hooves of your horses
Transport me like a storm over rocks.
For the sands in my country cannot read.
And the dust does not like the eyes of the children.

He used to cry in winter,
Dance alone in the bitter cold
And look at our mothers and our sisters
Whose breasts were being pulverised by the crowd
I used to fear and adore him
While I was glancing at my beloved land
Leaping, laughing and suffering
Through the hooves and the bullet shells
A land as white as pomade
Full of horse dung, blood
And the drawers of weeping women
I used to fear and adore him
While he was climbing the hills violently like pirates
Leaving behind him his red mouth
Flitting like a butterfly over our grapevines
Over upside down hills, like tables
While waves of bedouins and blue troops
Descended like a hurricane
Between rivers and black veils
Where crows weep
And the space is as dark as the mouth of a cannon.

I used to return alone to the desolated village
The hot sands burning my feet.
Bent behind the barbed wire
Raised like a rat on the ashes of history
With ink glinting like a knife between my teeth.
Why weren’t his trousers mine,
His hair and his whip?
Why weren’t these cattle mine?
And these drums?

He was from one of those vanished dynasties
That combed their hair in the narrow streets
And on the roofs of the hotels.
We, the dirty kids, used to adore him,
Put for him combs and mirrors
In the middle of the fields.
And take him money and meat
To the tops of the mountains
And he’d stretch out his hand
Like the trunk of an elephant.
Absorbing everything:
The milk of the land, the harvest, the shops,
The yields of the children
And the pudding of the old men
But . . .
Joy was falling like rain in the forests
And our land was crumbly like freshly baked biscuits
Green like oil
It bubbled with bravery, produce and weddings.

But . . . since this foreigner disappeared,
It became dark ruins
In which the wind whistled and the ravens cawed
Nobody would believe that he had died,
And that his huge mouth
Was pulled from the earth with tongs
One would say in the zenith that his soul shivered
And that he was resting in the heavens
The way a butterfly rests on the ear of a child.

Peace be with you
O believing spirits, djellaba and old lights.
Peace be with you,
O vines whom treading and faith have worn to a splinter.

Translated by Abdul Kader El Janabi
from the author’s collection Ghurfa bi-malayin al-Judran, 1964


Do not slap me, destiny,
Metres of smacks already cover my face.
Here I am, while the wind’s blowing in the streets,
Charging out of books, dictionaries and taverns
The same way soldiers charge out of trenches.
O centuries, mean like an insect,
You who seduced me with a fan instead of a storm,
With matches instead of volcanos.
I will never forgive you.
I will return to my village, on foot if need be
I will spread, on my arrival, rumours about you.
I will lie down on the grass and beside the ditches
Like a knight exhausted after battle.

Like trained dogs leaping circles of fire
I will cross these gates and windows,
These sleeves and collars,
Flying like a hawk
Above the shyness of virgins
And the suffering of workers
At twilight spreading my wings like a swallow
In search of a virgin land that at the lightest touch
Of a cottage, a palace, an emir or a begger,
Will leap in the air as a wild horse
At the touch of a saddle,
A land that has not existed and will never exist
Except in my notebooks.

All right, century, you have defeated me,
But I will not find in all the Orient
A summit where I can hoist
The flag of my surrender.

Translated by Abdul Kader El Janabi
from the collection al-Farah laysa Mihnati, 1970