The thistle has now gone to seed
rising from your hands,
drifting off here and there
The house is not smaller
it's only the cypress that's overgrown
the climbing fern, also, rising from your hands
has shot higher and higher
entwining round everything as though round you.
You didn't look back for a second when you left
Don't draw back, then,
don't for an instant try to retrace your steps.
You'll notice the door at once,
forbidding, holding fast its secrets, still
by hurried taps,
with the dried foliage on either side.
Knock on the door when you arrive
not once, twice or three times.
The grandchildren won't understand
on their own, probably
their story doesn't include you,
their burning ember is not the one
the grandchildren don't see
your hands in their surroundings.
When they open up, take a burning ember
from any stove,
where it lingers in your imagination.
Draw them to you one by one
and apologise for the gifts.
Stay with them
bring them back to their fullness softly,
firmly but warmly
as though your absence was only for an hour.
If you need me
remember me to them, perhaps
that may be of use.
Now, be careful!
If they haven't opened the door to you yet
or if they did, but slammed it shut
against the hoary stranger claiming to be you
if the door seems more forbidding
in your eyes, then
with the climbing fern darting
its stems at you
-- and the cactus, too,
please, do not try to open it with your key.
Translated by Marie-Thérèse Abdel-Messih from 'al-Qassida' magazine, No 1, Nicosia, 2000, and reprinted from Banipal No 15/16.
Night is a flash
He doesn't know where
this door leads
nor why the plants around him
are yellowed and drooping.
What confuses him most
are the roses
thirsty, silent, nonchalant
intimately clutching their colours.
The horses on the wall
are tired and grey
almost blackened by the clouds.
Why is he here now?
Doesn't he have, other than here, friendships
dawn, fantasies, and a coffee pot.
And isn't the wolf closer to his nature?
Hasn't he himself said:
the horizon a needle
a thicket of foxthorns then!
One moment, he doesn't know how, out there
his face resembles him again.
The air is a magician and the shadows are tokens.
The trees are busy
with their fruit, and night is a flash.
Half the night
His touch is wheat
when with tired hands he taps on our shoulders,
and a cypress rises in his silence
because he does not complain.
We did not understand grains then.
We did not understand dew.
He used to share a loaf of bread, like a miracle, among us
and share his days and commandments.
Keep it, always, hot
your bread, after me.
Past midnight, he wanders,
his tobacco between his fingers,
peering through our rooms
covering whatever we left exposed
looking out from the window
distant and ponderous.
My mother, who is
a thousand and one labyrinths,
follows his ember
ash by ash.
Harsh and cold
autumn holds to it our naked trees:
If only you would free, at least, the sparrows
from the tips of your fingers
and release a smile, a small smile
from the imprisoned cry I see.
Sing! Can we sing
as if we were light, hand in hand
sheltered in shade, under a strong sun?
Will you remain, this way
stoking the fire, more beautiful than necessary, and quiet?
and the distant light is our only consolation --
that one, which from the beginning
has, little by little, been flickering
and is now about to go out.
Come to me. Closer and closer.
I don't want to know my hand from yours.
And let's beware of sleep, lest the snow smother us.
Translated by Khaled Mattawa from the author's collections 'Ghuruf Ta'isha' (Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1992) and 'Satwat al-Masa' (Dar Bissan, Beirut, 1996). Reprinted from Banipal No 6.