Friday, March 19, 2010

Sargon Boulos ... wow!

by Sargon Boulus

I found myself in this house
kept by a woman who disappears
throughout the week to roam
along rivers. When she returns,
she moors her boat to my thigh
while I sleep
and drags her mauled body
in heavy silence to my bed.
Animals recently set free
have been growing more ferocious daily
pouncing on children and the sick
in alleys.
There are rumors, other news: they say
a great famine, plague, massacres...

When the dawn arrives
with its carts piled with ammunition
my neighbors bang their heads
against doors,
a sign of complete servility
or unbearable pain.
--translated by sargon boulus and alistair elliot

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab was one of the first of the modernists in Arabic poetry. His work is epic. He was one of the first to introduce the style of free verse to Arabic poetry, and of the Arabic modernists, he was one of the first and certainly one of the best to use mythology, both of his own culture and borrowed from the West, as a metaphor for the inanity of modern existence. He also, bless his heart, translated T.S. Eliot into Arabic.With that aside, his work is ridiculously difficult to find in English translation. There are a few of the more popular pieces, such as "Rain Song" and "Death and the River" that can be found in anthologies. But I need more.Does anyone have any clue where to find more of his work? Or that of Shauqi Abi Shaqra? Or Sargon Boulos?**

**Boulos is infinitely helpful in that he has helped to translate the works of other Arabic poets into English, but finding his own poems in translation is next to impossible.

Abdul Wahab Al-Bayati

There's nothing like an Iraqi poet who writes in honor of Rafael Alberti. And there's a bilingual collection of his work, called LOVE, DEATH, AND EXILE: POEMS TRANSLATED FROM ARABIC. It's an absolutely amazing gathering of his work, with wonderful introduction written by the translator, Bassam K Frangieh. Like Alberti, he writes of Cordoba and Cuba, and it's amazing how he managed to mimic Alberti's distinctive imagery. Here's a snippet:
from: Poems on Separation and Death

The prince of the moon was
Riding the fire horse
On the plains of Spain
Which crawled to the sea,
Carrying his seven sons in his ring.
When he passed through an enchanted garden
A young woman lay in wait for him
Calling his youngest son.
She seduced him with a love spell
Which rendered him mute and
Sealed his eyes with secrets
When he took her,
She took him: he disappeared.

There's another little passage from a piece called "For Rafael Alberti," that sounds like another version of Darwish's "Poetic Regulations:"
From my poetry I inherited: this deadly poverty,
This love, this flame, this murderous sword
With which my throat will be cut one day
For my support of the poor.

And, as an added bonus, the book is printed as a mirror-text, with one side in Arabic and the facing page translated into English.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fernando Pessoa, or, my heart ripped to shreds

"Suddenly I'm all alone in the world. I see all this from the summit of a mental rooftop. I'm alone in the world. To see is to be distant. To see clearly is to halt. To analyse is to be foreign. No one who passes by touches me. Around me there is only air. I'm so isolated I can feel the distance between me and my suit. I'm a child in a nightshirt carrying a dimly lit candle and traversing a huge empty house. Living shadows surround me - only shadows, offspring of stiff furniture and of the light I carry. Here in the sunlight they surround me but are people."

"Life, for me, is a drowsiness that never reaches the brain. This I keep free, so that I can be sad there."

***"All I asked of life is that it ask nothing of me. At the door of the cottage I never had, I sat in the sunlight that never fell there, and I enjoyed the future old age of my tired reality (glad that I hadn't arrived there yet). To still not have died is enough for life's wretches, and to still have hope...
....satisfied with dreams only when I'm not dreaming, satisfied with the world only when I'm dreaming far away from it. A swinging pendulum, back and forth, forever moving to arrive nowhere, eternally captive to the twin fatality of a center and a useless motion." ****

Thursday, September 27, 2007

goodness gracious!

by Miguel Hernández

(In Orihuela, his town and mine, like lightning
death took Ramo Sijé, whom I so loved)

I wish I was the gardener whose tears
water the earth you fill and fertilise,
my closest friend, so suddenly.

With my useless grief nourishing the rains,
the snails, and the body’s organs,
I shall feed your heart

to the wasting poppies.
Grief bunches up in my ribs
until just breathing is painful.

A hard punch, a frozen fist,
an invisible, homicidal axe-blow,
a brutal shove has knocked you down.

Nothing gapes wider than my wound
I cry over this disaster, over everything,
and feel your death more than my life.

I walk over the stubble of the dead,
and without warmth or consolation from anyone
I leave my heart behind, and mind my business.

Death flew off with you too soon,
dawn dawned too soon,
you were put into earth too soon.

I won’t forgive lovestruck death,
I won’t forgive this indifferent life,
I won’t forgive the earth, or anything.

In my hands a torrent of rocks
is brewing, lightning, vicious axes,
thirsting and starved for catastrophe.

I want to carve up the eath with my teeth,
I want to break up the earth chunk by chunk
in dry fiery mouthfuls.

I want to mine the earth till I find you,
and can kiss your noble skull,
ungag and revive you.

You’ll come back to my orchard, and my fig tree:
high up in the blossoms your soul
will flutter its wings, gathering

the wax and honey of angelic hives.
You’ll come back to the ploughs’ lullaby
of lovestruck farmhands.

You’ll bring light to my darkened face,
and your blood will have to pulse back and forth
between your bride and the bees.

My greedy lovesick voice
calls your heart, now crumpled velvet,
to a field of frothy almond sprays.

I call you to come to the flying souls
of the milky blossoms because
we have so many things to talk about,
my friend, my very best friend.

You were like the young fig tree
by Miguel Hernández

You were like the young
fig tree by the cliffs.
And when I passed by
you filled the sierra with sound.

Like the young fig tree,
resplendent and blind.

You are like the fig tree.
The old fig tree.
I pass, and silence
and dry leaves greet me.

You are like the fig tree
that lightning struck old.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Easter Sunday.. another little story by me

Easter Sunday

It was Easter, but he didn't know it. The plastic Easter eggs from last year had been left out all year, filled with sand, and used as paper weights on top of the big desk in the dusty room. Inside the house it was still November, it was always November. It was never young and it would never be old enough. The old woman lived in the dusty room with the Easter eggs. She was dying. She had been dying for as long as he could remember. But she never died fast enough. And she never got well either. Maybe she never got well because she had never been sick. But he was not to say such things. Instead he tiptoed past the door to the dusty room and held his breath lest he should wake her. "I'll show you!" she'd screech. "I'll show you fear in a handful of dust! Just look at this!" she'd say. "Just look!" and she'd stretch out her hand that was withered and yellow like old newspaper, and he hadn't known better. He had looked right at her. At the sagging skin that looked like it had been melted against her pointy bones. But it wasn't the sunken skin that scared him; it wasn't the ashen complexion. The eyes were black, but it wasn't even that. It was the twinkle in them. It was the twinkle out of black eyes that was all that was left alive in her and that wanted him to see fear in a handful of dust. Fear in a handful of ..
"..soil. Now this is soil, and it's not even frozen like it was last month, remember when we found the cat stuck stiff to it?" his father reminded him. He watched his father sift the soil through his fingers and pick it up again and sift it again. He looked and he could not see the difference. "See this is what happens when the winter ends. It all softens up again so I can replant everything. And then it'll grow and we can eat it, just like last year with those watermelons. Remember?" But he still couldn't see the difference. The grass was still short and brown and brittle and it was still cold. There was only one feeble patch of green beside the gnarled rosebush skeleton. And all the rest was brown. "See, we'll have another garden just where it was last year and we'll grow watermelons again," his father explained as he shifted his foot against the clumping dirt. He sifted more of it through is fingers and turned to spit tobacco juice which landed on the patch of green beside the gnarled skeleton. "There," he thought to himself, "now it matches."

Moon River: a disturbing little story by me

Moon River

She had gravel in her voice when she screamed, and I listened with annoyance because it was that screaming that kept me from concentrating. She screamed like she was special, like she was losing something, like she didn't deserve to be lying there like that, with the back of her head smashed into the pillow and his cold hand that felt like metal crushing both of hers against the headboard. And I hoped that soon she'd realize that it was nothing personal; it had nothing to do with her, just him. And I finally gave up on the book I'd been struggling to read all evening, and leaning back with my eyes closed, tried to focus my mind on Moon River, whose haunting melody could be heard echoing through the house at any given moment. I listened to his angel voice that spewed out every dununciation he could muster just beneath her weakening shrieks, and I pictured his eyes, pale blue and so tired.

"..ohh dream-maker, you heart-breaker.."

Almost fifteen minutes had passed when the screaming abruptly stopped and was replaced by trembling sobs, which sounded closer and closer as the girl stumbled down the hallway and spilled into the living room, where I sat with half-opened eyes. I glanced up and saw that she was a tiny brunette with big eyes and a pixie face. Her tears and mascara had run down her cheeks, making lines that looked like cracks in her blotchy, red skin. I watched her nervous hands that hugged her skirt against her narrow hips, since she was in too much of a hurry to zip it back up, and I was just as disgusted with her as he must have been. After all, she should have known what she was getting herself into. She should have realized that drug addicts don't make very good boyfriends. And what was she doing going home with someone she barely knew in the first place? She paused for a second and looked at me with her desperate Barbie-doll eyes, as if silently asking me for help, but I only met her tears with my usual tired glare, which shifted to the other side of the room as he tore through the doorway roaring, "I SAID GET OUT!!!" Then he fell back into a chair across from me as the door slammed behind her.
My eyes followed her through the window by the front door as she hurried down the sidewalk and into a neighborhood full of people who were either sleeping heavily or not home from work yet. Then my voice sounded sharply, "Can't you at least gag them with something from now on; I'm sick of all that noise."
But he didn't answer. Instead he sat on the edge of the chair with his head in his hands and stared at the floor with eyes that weren't guilty, just hurt. And I couldn't believe that I'd used that tone of voice with him. I couldn't believe that I had allowed a hint of anger to seep into my voice when I knew that none of it was his fault. He didn't rape girl after girl because he wanted to; it was just something that he had to do, to work out his demons, so to speak. After all, didn't his eyes harbor just as much hurt in the aftermath as theirs did, although admittedly a different kind of hurt? He was a little less than perfect as he sat staring through heavy eyelids at truths only he could decipher. And I couldn't help wondering, as I noticed that his pants were still unbuttoned and his open Oxford shirt had a stain on the front, probably from some nose bleed or another, what had happened to make angels become like this.
Moon River still floated idly around us. Everything was calm, and I had begun to wonder if he knew I was there when his eyes moved up and locked with mine, and then, "You never feel like one of them, do you?"
I looked down and thought it funny that our eyes talked more than we did. And I tried to look thoughtful as I searched for an answer.

"I'm not so sure the world deserves us..."

And finally I looked at his shoes and whispered, "I wouldn't scream."