Ahmed Al-Mulla

A Poem

Translated by Paul Starkey




The trumpet came in through the windows, blowing a pain that the mothers had parcelled and stored away, hiding it in cracks and on high shelves. What wind was it that frightened the curtains and tore to shreds their long anticipation? It moved the picture of the wall and stripped speech bare; the flute trembled, on the point of thirst, and the copper on the door shed tears. It was not the napkins at a banquet that fluttered on the roof, but an absence entrusted to a heartbeat that a farewell had suspended.

What souls were they that the room had once come to like and had not forgotten – souls that had left their mark in the dust, in the hollow of the chairs, the stain on the pillow and the imagination of the wood!

Souls gasping, their absence attested by the amber in the grandmother’s hand, eyes closed. She smiled that the absent one should sing of her flower, her hollow cheeks flushed to hear her small, forgotten name. She had not opened her eyes, lest she see more absence.

It is not a bedtime call to the children but a longing that flows from the pitchers of the breast and from violins, a trembling moan begging the scream to lessen its effusiveness, and stones that plunge – plunge but do not fall.

The fire finishes its portion of the loaf, and the mother rushes to the balcony, her hands suspended in flour, seeking reassurance in the stored memory that hangs down to the horizon from the beam of her long gaze. She arranges it and spatters it with the water of her eye so that it does not dry, and the breeze does not scratch it. Sometimes she leaps from lack of sleep to lean over the balcony, and returns with a downcast sigh, as if my father had pulled the rope from far away.

Sister, why did the visitor hesitate to give a knock, whose fingers you could count? Wasn’t the dove enough for yearning? The air on the roof is needed to dry your eyes. Speech has dried up, and a small message retrieved by the birds is filled with the feathers of dreams, which you shake in the sun every dawn.

Farewell, my brother, our father died centuries ago and our mother is in the farewell bed. I could not sleep when the house was empty of her yet full of her touch. How did you dare open the door for my return?

Her voice, which we missed; her voice, which sought help from a slow gesture of her fingers, ringing in my ears whenever I drew near the hospital. I forgot her little songs in the morning of the grandchildren. I forgot the bitterness of a candle that threw a circle around her of shadows of cruelty.

 I forgot the headache, bound around her head in a faraway house. I forgot the swelling in the neck that gathered grief. I forgot the tablets of incense which she secretly passed to the old. I forgot her cloak in the midday heat, gathering our loss. I forgot her tears from the leaf of the door when the visits ended. I forgot her finger tracing the air as a prayer for the one departing…

Farewell. Your brother has been betrayed, and in the middle of the rope there remains only a single thread to be broken for him to fall.


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