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I woke up in this house
kept by a woman who disappears
for weeks at a time, to wander along the river.
When she comes back, she moors
her light skiff to my thigh
while I sleep, and drags her bruised body
in heavy silence to my bed.
Roaming freely in the alleys,
beasts recently set free grow more
ferocious by the hour, pouncing on children,
mauling the sick, while rumours spread
with the other news: that a great
famine, that the plague,
the daily massacres . . .
When the day arrives, its carts
piled with fresh ammunition, my neighbors
bang their heads against the doors, a sign
of total submission, or unbearable pain.
Where the sun used to dance
on window panes in some village,
on water flowing through the orchards,
there is nothing but a river of sand now,
gluttonous with the force of oblivion,
on whose banks nothing grows but time,
here, on the other side of the border.
Tyre marks stretch in the dunes,
then vanish, only to appear once more
behind the border, between two walls
that scale the sky; a vulture floats
like a forgotten worshipper
in an abandoned temple,
over the head of the man passing
under spans of mirages
anointed by no one, across
a horizontal ladder of dunes;
he flies low to examine a lizard
racing in the shadow of his wings,
the loosened stakes of a tent,
perforated tin cans storing rust,
or the bones of a smuggler, a beast.
Beneath a rag nailed by the thorns
like a banner of defeat,
the coiled serpent sleeps.
The dry artesian well shelters
a few crickets at dusk, the wind
goes aimless on its way,
and the hour is naked, burdened
with the weight of separation.
Here the man turns his back to the vulture.
THE LETTER ARRIVED
that you write while the bombs
rain down, erase the history of the roofs,
eradicate the faces of the houses.
I write to you while God
allows them to write my destiny;
this is what makes me doubt He is God.
You wrote to say:
My words, these creatures threatened
with fire. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to live.
After “they” are gone, I will regain them
with all their purity like my white bed
in the barbarians’ dark night.
I keep vigil in my poem until dawn, every night.
Then you said:
I need a mountain, a sanctuary. I need other humans.
And you sent the letter.
INCIDENT IN A MOUNTAIN VILLAGE
The air is suddenly
incensed, night shivers
inside the tree,
as we listen to a storm
of fluttering wings
that rise by their thousands
in the dark: it is the birds
fleeing from a rock
that fell headlong
from its height
on the mountain-side,
and lodged itself
into the mouth
of the well.
Translated by the author