Dream 1 On nights of torment and sorrow
its waters saturate the pillow
and it comes like the smell of moss
with green steps
to touch my right palm
with a jasmine sprig:
I am the river...
Don't you love me? Don't you want to reach Basra
on the wings of the pillow?
I'm awake, awake.
"On my pillow a drop
that tastes like moss..."
Dream 2 Skies shade me.
Low skies shade me and the sparrows,
and my grandfather holds my hand,
his face shaded with a red kaffiyeh.
In the distance the waters shine
and my grandfather holds my hand:
Let's go faster before the birds leave.
Let's go faster before tide robs our nets...
On the grass, fish drip from our nets.
In river fog they appear like green ships,
like red ships,
like blue ships
that sailed before the water rose.
Dream 3 On the shores of Kout Al-Zain dawn was tumbling down.
he date palms wore purple plumes
and in my hair there were stars, warmth, and rain.
I was swimming toward the other bank,
swimming to reach Ahwaz.
And in Ahwaz dawn was tumbling down
and the date palms wore purple plumes
and the water in Karoun tasted just like the water
Sidi Belabas, 4/5/1969
You Imru Ul-Qais
At last in a half-furnished room near Nicosia
you came to deliver peace on your lips.
Is it only now, after five thousand miles,
that you've found the words?
After moss filled your home
and the arrows were scattered in the sea.
Peace to a grove of figs.
Peace to this darkness.
Peace to a shell that hid its blood in wet sleep.
Peace to this ruin.
Like a spring between slim hands
slowly slipping off my covers
the way a farmer peels an apricot's soft stubble,
are you shining like silver while the world is lead?
All that surrounds me are shores.
Shall we start now?
Cities they speak of: there.
Hamlets, villages, capitals.
Our roads have diverged and crossed.
Shall we enter all exits here at once?
Shall we exit all entrances?
Our city is far
and far that eternity wounded in our eyelids.
I want your hands slim.
I won't live long, woman.
I won't live long, kill me.
Clouds fixed like mountains of chalk.
A swallow passes overhead
and reaches the church tower
at the end of the neighborhood.
There are three cedars there—
and I will draw them one day—
and my ashtray is full of snails.
The late morning is white
and the plant shakes
and the table shakes.
Is this the distant roar again?
Is this that blood rushing from joint to vein?
Peace to this morning bee visiting me.
When we came to measure the roads
we thought night was shorter
than Ibn Khaldun's Muqadima
and we said: North Africa is our cape;
it will protect us from scorching heat and jagged cold.
Maybe we were young.
Maybe we came to eat the sour grapes
our parents avoided.
What wisdom lies in this top spinning?
Which death is easier?
(Note that we didn't even whisper,
"Which death is more beautiful?")
The cedar of the harbor and Samera
with the stupor of she who coiled
in a corner by her spring.
Young friends are fighting unto death
over their share of the ammunition box.
This way we go on as we were.
We learned, but what of this top spinning?
Thank you Imru ul-Qais, victim of murder.
The early sparrow sends a feather
to pomegranate blossoms.
A swallow flies aiming
for his centimeter of the street,
and the small balconies stand
in an infinity of solitude.
Morning ended when morning arrived.
So who will come,
and who will come?
And who will color the edge of the sheet?
Who will celebrate the touch of her fingers?
Who will celebrate the astonishment of morning?
Four boats in the whiteness of the wall.
Four boats in the bottom of the ocean.
The mirrors intervene.
I wanted a voice unlike any other.
Still I proceed in the hall of mirrors:
do I close my eyes now?
Do I ignore what my eyes ignore?
This road has gone on for too long
and the mirror still interferes.
Sometimes I disappear stumbling
in the water of small bays.
The Bosporus Strait shines before me,
in my hands grass
from the shifting bottom, and a shell.
The fish circle around, catching
butterflies, porcupines, stars
and eyes of drowned men.
Eternal silence killing me:
where is this sound coming from?
In a while I will resume my stumbling
among mirrored halls.
one of the leading poets of the Arab world.
Born in Iraq, he has published thirty
volumes of poetry, and as many translations
and works of prose. Khaled Mattawa's translation
of his selected poems, Without
an Alphabet, Without A Face, is forthcoming
this December from Graywolf Press.
Mattawa is the author of two books
of poems, Ismailia
Eclipse (The Sheep Meadow Press, 1996),
and Zodiac of Echoes (forthcoming
from Ausable Press). Mattawa has translated
three volumes of contemporary Arabic poetry,
and co-edited Post Gibran: Anthology
of New Arab American Writing. He is
an assistant professor of English at the
University of Texas, Austin.