Abdel-ilah Salhi

The gambler

All roads lead to this moment
You apologize to your guest excusing yourself with something urgent
You hurry through the restaurant rows
You scrutinize yourself in the bathroom mirror
Realizing that it is the hour of truth
And that getting pleasure is a gamble in which gain and loss are equal

You go back to the table
And in front of all pounce on her with a sudden kiss


Seven hundred thousand women live single in Paris
Their age between thirty and forty
Unmarried, divorced, or
The voice of the announcer was so neutral
Chewing this plain number from among the many details of modern life
Closing the news with it

Seven hundred thousand single women
O man!
And for four hours you have been tormenting yourself before a computer
In search of good sentences that express hard life without a woman

Thanks Gilles Deleuze

They were quoting you
Murmuring your name like a prophet coming from afar
From whose mouth a unique music issues

My own French was not good enough even to purchase bread decently
But the ring of your name
In the sidewise discussions had a special magic
Which for long put my extreme ignorance to shame

Migration is a sacred right, you said once
Nobody said that before you, and no one dared say it after
In this country which we married for love
I, Mohamed, Abdelkader, and Fatima
And other Arabs whose dusty names this poem is too narrow to contain.
Until now I haven’t met anyone who could explain the mysteries of your obscure expression
Laws say the opposite from one government to the other
And the caretaker is French of Portuguese origin
Yet he looks down on philosophers

I was in the subway stealing glances at a newspaper someone was reading
When I saw your name printed in bold, and the headline your death
It seems you threw yourself from the window
But why all those who love you to blindness
Love life more than anything else
I felt ashamed of my ignorance once again
And hated myself in plain Arabic
Despite the grumblings of the coloured owner of the newspaper

Migration is a sacred right
An expression which is enough it was once said
For me every morning to pursue my own sacred right
Seeking your protection O Gilles Deleuze

There are stories that end before starting

Emotion is a mangy dog
Biting me to howl like ninety percent of the mean people in this city
The dog defeats the wolf inside me

Plenty of sentences failed me at dinner
The remains of your man hovered over us despite the dim light
I had to quietly drink my glass
And stare at you profoundly, though without concentration
I had to refrain from running at the rough turning
Which makes me feel small, now expecting a phone ring

Good wine
And a delicious Moroccan couscous
You were close at hand like the evening party
The heart landed like a repugnant guest, so I stammered
But your case was very  mild indeed

In stead of assaulting you like a wolf from the forest
I licked your hand like a dog wishing for love


Abdel-ilah Salhi was born in 1968 in Beni Mellal, Morocco, but spent most of his childhood and adolescence in El Jadida where he completed his education in 1990. He began writing and publishing poetry when he was still a university student, and managed at that early age to tie strong relations with most of the representatives of the “new poetry” generation in Morocco.
When he got his B.A degree in English in 1990, he moved to Bordeaux, France, to pursue his postgraduate studies in English literature. There, he seized the opportunity to explore the French literary scene and acquaint himself with modern Arab literature in exile; many Arab expatriate writers were living in France. He made the acquaintance of Iraqi poet Abdelkader Al Janabi, and through him frequented the Arab surrealist circle in Paris. This inspired him to establish his own literary magazine Israf (excess), the first issues of which had a great impact on the promotion of the prose poem and the surrealist tendency in Morocco. Since 1987, Salhi has been published widely in several magazines. Two collections of his poems, one in French and the other in Arabic will be published shortly.
Although the poetry of Abdel-ilah Salhi has varied extensively over the past years, it has kept some of its main characteristics, such as the celebration of everyday experience, the tone of humor which turns desperate situations into brilliant poetic moments, and the narrative tendency which dominates most of his poems. Indeed, Salhi is a brilliant storyteller whose friendship and hospitality are highly recommended. He is considered by many as the mouthpiece of the Moroccan “new poetry” in France, and Europe as a whole.
Salhi earns his living as a journalist and radio correspondent in France.

Norddine Zouitni

© Translation: 2004, Norddine Zouitni