Khaled Mattawa
(Libya / United States)


What lies beyond sorrow belongs to feet, automobiles, and the distances they cover. When leaves change color no one will say "True, true, again." Yes, steps in an endless ladder, conjectures about the size of infinity, deviations from the arrangements of our best composers. You must ask sopranos about this; they will tell you all there is to know.


I begin with warm ground under my feet. It's the old argument about progress, how today's bakers deprive us of the dialectics of tooth and grain, earth and tongue. In kneading, only the palm is happy meeting one of its own. There are times when such encounters end up in the food chain, the body always longing to retrieve them for its endless famines.


There is no escaping the white rose, the wish for shade on hot summer days. Such longing may explain the mystique of dying words. Before knowing the possibility of redemption and the credibility of the redeemer, we must consider why grave diggers refuse to dig alone. Some of us die before asking questions. Some of us consult witch doctors who decipher the lines on zebras' backs.


We turn to bakers and ask what do they deprive themselves of. At home they comment on the rice, the grilled meat or beans. No mention of bread. You may say that is the stamp of distance, the transparent nature of the world's soul. Yes, I know we live by the apotheosis of pleasures and sufferings. Then you and I share a dream of drowning. In it we cry for help to the shape in the distance. Though we want to be saved, we hope it is the bakers who sail by us on a raft.


I too am surprised by our neglect of butter. Can anyone provide a better answer than birds who live without keys? It is said that a man with many keys its trustworthy. Locksmiths are continuously tested by the authorities. Divorces deny them access to safes. A glass of wine limits their clientele to people locked out of their cars. Standing in parking lots, these people soon learn the minute difference between the familiar and unfamiliar, the freedom granted by self-effacement. They begin to reflect on melting and solidifying, and on the hedonistic gesture inherent in the whisper of salt in Norwegian butter.




I own nothing except my wishes.
I wrap them in colored paper
and stack them on shelves. Mister,
Monsieur, take this one, the wish
to be a doctor, I have had it
for years. Give it to your daughter,
hang it next to her cross. And this
green one, the wish to have a home,
in heaven, passion fruit dangling,
honey lakes, raspberry wine streams,
and Gabriel for a neighbor,
wings under the sun, spit-shined
like a pair of well kept model T's,
velvet cape fluttering on a clothesline,
from a distance you'd think it's a cloud.
Yes, of course the same Gabriel
who convinced the skies to rain
wine on Yemen, for centuries
providing the Hadramoutis with the manna
of pickled fish, among other
prodigious feats. Speaking of miracles,
here's my grandfather's.
He was a slave in the High Court
of Abdulhamid, the last Caliph
of the Sick Man of Europa who,
when the kingdom folded, sold
thousands of horses and concubines.
Even the turbans of Sulaiman
the Magnificent were sold.
The nomads of Anatolia
called them "The Coffers of Wisdom,"
and were crushed when they heard the news.
The Hittites bought a blue turban,
cut it into little pieces and each,
from the toothless grandpa
to the one-eyed babe stitched a piece
on his sleeve. The Khadrites soaked
a red one in the holy well of Zamzam
and drank Sulaiman's wisdom
spoon by spoon. Monsieur,
you are stubborn for a Swede.
Here for two francs, I offer you
the last drops of Magnificence.
Sulaiman, The Lawmaker, he was big,
a notch or two beneath Moses
and the Seven Mighty Priests.
But who's counting now?
It's my wishes that are for sale.
This green one is my father's;
he prayed for salt in his stew
and a taste of meat every holy month.
And it was in a holy month, Monsieur,
that the soldiers left the belly
of Troy's wooden beast. Forget
love of country or the glory of conquest.
It was rampant buggery, Monsieur,
darkness, thirst from eating olives
and dried fruit. This yellow wish
belonged to my cousin who lost his legs
in Gallipoli, and is now deaf in one ear.
A simple wish. Monsieur, don't leave.
One franc is like a bucket from the sea.
Take these pebbles I found in my loaf.
They could have fallen from Christ's sandals
on the day he rode to Jerusalem.
They could have been stuck for days
among miracles, lodged in the bone
mounds of his holy fish.


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