Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Stranger by the Gulf

By Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab (1953):

The wind gasps with the midday heat,
Like a nightmare in the late afternoon
And on the masts, it continues to fold, to spread for departure
The gulf is crowded with them--laborers roaming the seas
Barefoot, half-naked
And on the sand, by the gulf
A stranger sat--a baffled vision wanders the gulf
Destroying the pillars of light with the rising wail
Higher than the torrents roaring foam, than the clamor
A voice thunders in the abyss of my bereaved soul: Iraq
Like the crest rising, like a cloud, like tears to the eyes
The wind cries to me: Iraq.
The wave howls at me: Iraq. Iraq. Nothing but Iraq.
The sea is as wide as can be, and you are as distant
The sea is between you and me: Oh Iraq.

Yesterday, as I passed by the café, I heard you Iraq . . .
You were a spin of a record
This, the spin of the cosmos in my life--it rolls time on for me
In two moments of tranquility if it has lost its place
It is the face of my mother in darkness
And her voice,
They glide with the vision until I sleep
And it is the palm trees that I fear if they grow dim at sunset
Crammed with ghosts snatching every child
who doesn't return from the paths,
And it is the old woman and what she whispers about Hazam

And how the grave split open over him before the beautiful, young Afra
And he took hold of her . . . except for a braid

Rose red . . . do you remember?
The glowing fireplace crowded with palms seeking warmth?
And my aunt's whispered tales of bygone kings?
And behind a door like a decree
That was closed on the women
By hands forever obeyed--as they were the hands of men
The men would carouse and pass the night in revelry
without tiring

So, do you remember? Do you remember?
Content, we were resigned
With those sad stories--as they were the stories of women.
A collection of lives and times, we were in its prime
We were its two spheres--between which it rested
So, isn't that nothing but dust?
A dream and a spin of the record?
If that were all that remains, where is the consolation?

In you Iraq, I loved my spirit or I loved you in it
Both of You, the lantern of my spirit, you--
and evening came
And the night pressed down--so let both glow in the darkness,
so I will not lose my way
If you came to me in a foreign land--the encounter would be
incomplete
Meeting you--Iraq at my hand . . . this, the encounter
Longing for it penetrates my blood, as if all of my blood is desire
A hunger for it . . . like the hunger of the blood of the drowned for
air The desire of the unborn stretching his neck from the
darkness to birth
I wonder how it is possible for traitors to betray
Does one betray his country?
If he betrays the meaning of being, how can he be?

The sun is more beautiful in my country than any other, and darkness
Even darkness--there, is more beautiful
for it embraces Iraq

What a pity . . . .when will I sleep
And sense on the pillow
Your summer night--gilded by your perfume, Iraq?

Between timid villages and strange cities, my footsteps
I sang your beloved soil
And I carried it--for I am the Messiah in exile dragging his cross
And I heard the footfall of the famished moving, bleeding
from faltering
And dust, from you and from padded feet--my eyes filled with tears
I still walk, disheveled--with soiled feet on the roads
Under foreign suns
In tattered rags, hands outstretched, calling
Pale from fever and disgrace, the disgrace of a strange beggar
Amidst foreign eyes
Amidst scorn, and rejection, and aversion . . . or pity
Death is easier than pity
Than the pity foreign eyes squeeze out as
Drops of mineral water
So be doused, you, Oh drops, Oh blood, . . . oh . . . currency
Oh Wind, Oh needles tailoring the sail for me,
when will I return
To Iraq, when will I return?
Oh Flash of the waves staggered by oars---
carrying me to the Gulf
Oh great constellation . . . oh currency.
If only the ships didn't charge their passengers for traveling?
If only the earth like the vast horizon was without seas
I am still calculating, oh currency, I count you--I ask for more

I am still repelled by you from the intervals of my alienation,
I still ignite my window and my door with your glow,
On the other shore over there,
So tell me, oh currency . . .
When will I return, when will I return.
Do you see that joyous day approaching before my death?

And in the sky, in the fragments of clouds
And in the breezes, hailstones saturated with August perfumes
I reveal with a cloak, the remainder of my lethargy, like a silk veil
Disclosing what is and is not visible,
What I have and barely have forgotten,
when doubt is within certainty
It is clear to me--as I extend my hand to slip on my clothes--
What answer was I searching for in the darkness of my soul
That the hidden joy did not fill the abyss of my spirit like fog?
Today--as delight floods through me--surprising me--I return

What a pity--
I will not return to Iraq
And will he who lacks currency return?
And how is it saved?
And will you eat when you are hungry? And will you spend
what
Dignity deems generous, on food?

So cry for Iraq
For what do you have but tears
But your futile anticipation, for the winds and the masts.