1

 

I was almost certain.

But now I’m of a cast-iron certainty that I’m going to die

a death of strange account

in the summer

or in the third half of August

to be precise

 

When the day comes, I’ll approve of it, like a spouse, smiling,

clean-shaven, nails trimmed, neat, in a green

neck tie and shiny black shoes

starting – no holding back – to meet the King of Kings, and to

bid farewell to those garments of the world’s underbelly that

cling to the memory:

– the olive of proverbs . . . for one example

– the flies of famine . . . for another

– my love who loves her lover . . . that does sometimes happen!

– the Cow in the Qur’an, which becomes a calf . . . interpreted so

– and you. Yes, you, you lies, laid out for sale like a host

of dried plums on a Berber stew!

 

 

1.2

 

Higher than the angels – surely –

higher than children’s pee when they sketch rainbows beneath a speechless sky.

Higher still, as it should be, you’ll find the heat,

unfortunately for those to whom gloating provides the opportunity to spread the word that I’m from a desert in the fringes of the south. In the farthest south. It takes a good three-quarters of a day to get to the dogs on its edge, in the belly of a flaking, ignorant

bus . . .

crawling along,

never getting there.

 

I’m not him

and they’re not prophets

till I scream in the heat:

Be cold, I beg you, and at peace!

On that front, I’ll admit the limitations of my wonder-working

and the paucity of my generosity.

But on the other hand,

(and the truth is sometimes spoken):

there is no other hand.

 

 

1.3

 

Just from my winter clothes

and from my inner whispering

and from my bodyguards . . . too:

 

I can well believe that it’s fifty degrees in the shade, a torture made bearable by the length of the funeral prayers and the burial rites.

For the people, who’ve reached the forty mark by one judge. On that very condition. And from singing about it. Fifty degrees in the shade is just

a summer breeze. Yet the whoosh of a slap confused the buzzing of a fly.

 

And whatever happens:

Parasols will be permitted . . . both inside and outside the bus.

 

As long as they’re white.

“Graves are not keen on multicoloured grief or on rose-tinted joy”

That phrase arose from a seldom seen book

in which the river ran back to its source

and the source to the bowels of the earth.

Yet it wasn’t a book

but a manuscript . . .

and personal at that.

 

 

2

 

At first I wanted for my body to be carried – this body; the other one’s body evaporated along with the sweat of childhood – to be carried in a hungry, Phoenician basket, to the most skilled butcher in the village and for them to ask him to cut it up with a great cleaver into the biggest possible number of members

and ribbons

and pieces

and strips

and bits

and splinters

 

He does that every morning to the fresh mutton and to the horses they’ve betrayed, to the speeches of ruins and the birds of forgetfulness.

So why not to me?

but this time:

no mercy.

Butchers know better than anyone the secrets of human flesh and are less injurious to the blood flowing through the designated pipelines of the village.

N - e - v - e - r

would a butcher leave his cleaver in a duck’s neck

or between a rabbit’s thighs

and never would he forget anything inside something

as he can’t afford to forget.

However, what goes on with doctors, in the courts of scientific experiment, is well known to the soldiers of wordplay, the officers of simile and the generals of metaphor.

 

Hope:

for the sparks of my bones to fly . . .

till they brush angels’ wings.

 

 

2.1

 

Verily, my nationalism . . .

What a heavy “verily” to start that Roman sentence!

But you are sentenced to use such words and bother about grammar, even with your mouth full! Even if you lose a tooth over them. Even if you stand, screaming in the desert:

“Verily, no reader am I!”

He said to her: “verily . . .”

so she dumped him

before he’d ever had a chance to get out the:

“I love thee”

She dwelt in the heart of another man

on the fifth floor.

Near the side road

that the lorries aren’t allowed to use

next to the cloth seller

– white cloth –

cloth for those promised to death!

My nationality, then . . . I can’t just dedicate my corpse to my village and deprive the rest of the country’s soil of the traces of my death or of my decay.

This death

that the filthy parts of the world make bay at me in the taverns of piety

for God sees no reason to answer their prayers.

Maybe because he loves me.

Or at least . . . because he doesn’t hate me.

Unsurprising for a being of whom I’ve heard nothing but what inspires affection.

Bless the Lord!

We don’t sacrifice our kids to him any more.

Harsh punishment

should we die and leave him alone . . . in this kingdom.

 

 

2.2

 

As follows, I spread my corpse inside a virgin Byzantium, as before, to cities yet unbuilt and infidel deserts yet unconquered by levies for the caliph and the lancer when a nuclear inspiration blows in:

 

my fingers . . .

to the bare-stripped mountains of the south where the martyrs feign sleep, slain by the bullets of independence

Telegraph poles and fast train cables

steps and spindles

pens and matchsticks

you will stretch out under the harsh blacksmiths’ hammers

everything except the index finger and thumb, for the sad trunk of the palm tree

may well raise a gesture of victory to her strange arrogance midst the oceans of sand.

 

my lips: to her

two bows on her brows

two crescents in the night of the eclipse.

 

my liver:

O guard of the palace:

I prepared it for you on a crescent-shaped plate made of ivory; if you wanted it fried, I’d fry it, if you wanted just half, a half you had

in just two minutes, I’d be drooling

With a little parsley and yoghurt it would be delicious and you’d ask for seconds.

 

my brain:

after all my little amount of scientific research, really very scientific

I still don’t have a second brain . . .

we need to find a solution before running to a hundred thousand pages at least

the whole of humanity is looking for the best theory

and the Berbers will find it . . . this time round

 

my eyes:

to the poor of the savannah and the sleeping woodland, and the cats, on the jetties of hope.

 

my family name: to him

as I am in him

He tries to kill me, so I can’t complain!

 

He says his “sh”s like esses

So I understand him to say what he hasn’t really said

 

And under a faraway sky

he asks me:

– that my Lord!

and I grow embarrassed

and move to kiss myself and this poem

On Sunday morning

I give back to the Quraysh the virtues of my name and the crown of prophecy

and miracles

and become: a dad

 

with a chunk of helwa

and a few tales

and a couple of jokes

 

my ears:

to the first secretary of the National Inspection Team for the beauty of these words:

the beauty we still feel:

I sought the advice of a lawyer, of medium height, the judge knew her surname, I her name, and she confirmed that the law does not oblige poets to measure their words, adding:

“So what if ‘Good morning’ contains an iamb?

‘Go take a long walk

off a short cliff’

is dactylic,

as luck would have it!”

The lawyer finished speaking and then it seemed to me that luck had far more in it than that.

 

 

3

 

“A death by such and such, a thousand dinars!”

“A death for half the state budget!”

“A conceited death . . . the Ministry of Finance will be surprised.”

“So conceited.”

 

“Such a thing never happened: he will hang the great guardian of the afterlife.”

“Never.”

 

“He’s mad, that man: the doctors will tell you.”

“Mad.”

 

“God curse the motherland: the imam at the funeral will say.”

“And God curse your mum: the crowd will whisper!”

 

“And what if we don’t respect the Will?”

the quickest witted

will wonder

 

A tomb in every village!

Where’s the harm?

Am I to be denied even that?

It’s not my problem no-one’s thought of it before.

Since my head fell on these ashes and I’ve been consumed with plotting the horror of my death.

Never . . .

did I rescue someone from a herd of maddened camels like they do in the songs.

did I stop the Ottoman wolves from seizing my flesh, in defence of my vigilance of the flock.

did I let the Iberian bull gore my stomach, lest it be said:

“Look at that boy, he’s got no tummy!”

I never let myself be bound by an ancestral fear of scorpions because they were scorpions for their own sake

 

and snakes

and hyenas

and lizards

and jackals

and dogs

and bees

and poisonous frogs

I never threw stones at them, when they stripped me of my dreams, and passed round cups of poison to the guests of my nightmares.

But in the end, all of these, those crawling, horned beasts, would punish me with a local death, one that did not take me further than the tribal boundaries.

Whereas I want it to be a death of renown

a public death . . . as they say

a profitable death, in the language of the stock market,

a death to strengthen the ties of brotherhood and mutual co-operation, in an ethos of perfect harmony and complete trust, between me and the soil

which I came from and to which I’ll return.

Only death grants a permanent right of abode in the soil.

Only bones make good fertiliser for ears of wheat and palm trees

and everything in between.

 

Only wills can prolong intentions and bring the dead to life.

 

 

4

 

I was almost certain.

But now:

I am sure that they will respect the Will and sow my seed

in every square foot of this land

This land . . .

to which I’ll add a word, taken from my death

and name it:

“My land.”

 

 

Casablanca – Tunisia

Summer, 1992

 

 

Translated by Tristan Cranfield

"Al-Wassiyah" ["The Will"] was published in Tunis, 2002