A man lives in a suitcase
his feet are crossroads –
a gloomy sky at each.

Once he saw a flock of sheep on the horizon
and remembered his grandfather
He lit a candle inside a cave
and kept circling it
century after century
until his shadow cracked
and his days welled up with tears.


From the dreariness of the road
they came
bundled up in coats whose belts
were the autumn of water-springs.

Their wounds galloped over
mountains and dreams
but never made it.

from the collection
Rajul Min al-Rub’ al-Khali [A Man from the Empty Quarter], Beirut, 1994

No Country We Headed To

No woman we loved
the enemy didn’t conquer first.

No country we headed to
fire didn’t level down to the ground..

No wound we bandaged with our eyelids
didn’t fling wide open.

No arena
No child we begat under horses hooves
(What horses?)
No horizon, or memory unbuttoning
in the splendour of its hallway.

No childhood, even remote like Saturn
No lion, as he left at dawn along with his lair
The mountains’ eternal foundations collapsed
I don’t hear the crows cawing in the arac trees
Eagles were hanged by summits
No echoes
Nothing at all.

From Rajul Min al-Rub’ al-Khali
[A Man from the Empty Quarter], Beirut, 1994


The scream that’s sunk inside
like an animal buried in a cave, prowls around
sleepers, along with its foreign soldiers,
forces them to go to
uncharted, distant lands.
The scream that comes down from the age
of enormous floods – my only
travel guide
my spoiled woman whom sometimes
I watch duping hyenas in my bed
then falling asleep in my etherized, tranquil

At times it falls upon distant summits,
wailing, like a primordial widow.

But tonight, as she abandons me,
I see at the far end of the forest
a wounded tigress watching me in admiration.


When I travel to a country
rumours arrive before me
I feel intoxicated
like a wolf whose dreams beat him to the prey
So I don’t arrive.

A Tramp Dreaming of Nothing

And like a wave clawing
a hurricane,
I entered this world’s wilderness
throwing the treasures of my forefathers to the bottom of hell
honing my limbs on an exile-forged

And like a child who’s always losing the game,
I didn’t expect much from my ilk
I didn’t expect anything
but the clamour of doors and windows
being opened and shut near my head
with the innocence of aimless

But I exist and don’t exist
knowing I’m hallowed with emptiness
A chronicle missing no detail
lit with magical lanterns
and you need to plough its
heart for a
single tear
or confession.

You need to follow the moon of departure,
stretched between water and land, land
and grave,
in order to see a shadow in a cave.

A genie trembling in awe of God,
napping on the devil’s
But I am here . . . Maybe now
I’m in a café,
watching the world from behind the glass
The pale sunset,
a hangover after yesterday’s trip
I’ll extinguish with today’s
and not care about anything
Let rivers dump their cities of garbage
into the sea
Let vagrants spit at the shrines of saints
and soldiers crop the heads of their barracks,
Let eagles soar high or low
That’s all.

It would be redundant to discuss
the relation between mouth and spring
or a village delirious under
the trap of the flood’s ribs,
or nice evenings of poets who dream of suicide aboard
a boat slowly sinking into water’s
or by an axe suddenly plunging,
with no mercy.

You need to sell the furniture in your house
for morning coffee
(what house have you had?)
except for a tattered shoe over which
city nights stumble
and rags bequeathed to you by a dead friend
You remember (how could you forget?)
being chased by the scarecrow of poverty and Pharisees
and jackals
in Cairo and Damascus, in Beirut
and Algiers and Sophia and Paris and the rest
You remember it all, with the brilliance of birth,
the clarity of a crab crawling between
rivers like a tourist enchanted by Bedouin

O mother, sleeping on the bare
among the wreckage of hessian and scattered clothes
like the ruins of a village
razed by a thunderbolt.
There’s no field left for your anticipating
We no longer listen to the crowing of roosters
or bring fish from the beach
There’s no dawn left whose feathers you play with
at the edge of the well
where you bade me farewell for the first time
seventeen years ago
(Don’t stay away for too long!)
A single step blew up the orbit
of miles
and joined in the delirium of galaxies.

Museum of Shadows

White birds cross wide rivers
on nights more lonesome than widows of war.

Bridges and closed-eyes trees strolling
with passers-by,
as if in a museum of shadows.

From a distance you could see their shadows, staggering
among the stupidity of daytime’s
empty bottles.

You know them, one by one –
incurable curse,
nameless glories.

They came from a house next to your dreams,
searching for a heart more merciful than knowledge
and under the enormous shadows of a sombre dawn
they all disappeared
except for a single peal of laughter.

Distant Waters

In the murky mirrors of distant waters
the bird of desire soars beyond a sealed horizon
Faces split by the cawing of years
Chariots bark behind the walls
As if you came for a trip preceding birth
you follow a grand funeral of reminiscences
wearing a shirt stained with the blood of distances.

Struck with amnesia, camels
are lost in the alleyways
Dynasties crossing the desert
all drowned in quicksand
You walk with a lonely step
leaving every place its private wound
and every minaret a belt of howls.

Body smeared with departures,
those who came from distant waters tell you to stop
and watch your sin fleeing.

From Mudia Wahidah la Takfi li-Dhabh Usfur
[One Penknife Isn’t Enough to Slaughter a Bird],Oman, 1988

Water Blessed by Prophets

Spoils granted by heaven
Water blessed by prophets
at the rock of their racking thirst
Flutter of the hoopoe’s wing at Solomon’s throne
From pain and delight you cry my love
from desire, erupting at the curve of longing

(My body’s veins are hidden rivers)

You walk around stripped of a wedding ring on
your finger
You were the lake dreamt of by the winds.

You shut all doors
so I can open up a door or window
and look through at your dark cave
your concealed treasures
where crescents and baskets dangle
with ripe fruits
and gazelles through whose movements the ignorance
of those who passed before me seeps.
The luxurious find
for the body that’s moulded with a breeze
And for him who loiters in the night of organs
the blood of desire oozes
in search of the spring that flows with abandon
in the delirium of the forest.

Under the Roofs of Morning

My scream is still blossoming under
the roofs of morning.
Your city couldn’t stifle it.
My scream, on whose frost
I built a lawn –
a blind plunderer of the legacy of silence.
The screams of shepherds when their herd is startled
by a predatory animal
The screams of saints and demons
at the edge of doomsday
She carried it from town to town
like a nursing mother carries her child
like a tribe carries its seeds of origin
My only guide to the source of the river
in the blind darkness
in times of forgetfulness –
my scream under the roofs of morning
and night
is the witness to my silence
the witness of madness and pleasure.
You can’t take that away from me
no matter how big the claws and weapons.

From Al-Jundi al-Ladhi Ra’a al-Ta’ir fi Nawmih
[The Soldier who Saw the Bird in his Sleep], Cologne, 2000