Should the night approach your window— go to him naked. He will flow and darken gently around your hushing beauty, and touch the line of your breasts. I will stand with him, lost and mutely yearning: come to our darkness. And your eyes will travel ahead of us giving light for me and my friend. 1923 —Translated from Hebrew by Leon Wieseltier. This poem appeared in the June 7, 2012 issue of the magazine.
How, beloved, can I watch you stand alone in sorrow’s storms, and my heart not tremble? Already a profound night, blacker than the black of your eyes, falls silently upon the universe. Already it has touched your curls-- Rise up. My hand will hold your dreaming hand and lead you slowly in between the nights. Through the pale mists of childhood my father thus guided me to the house of worship. 1923 —Translated from the Hebrew by Leon Wieseltier. This poem appeared in the June 7, 2012 issue of the magazine.
The one-story houses were painted aqua, violet, orange, pistachio. I spoke to the taxi driver in broken Spanish. I was becoming a priest, I told him, God willing—Soy un sacerdote (the tense wrong, the article unnecessary, the r rolled too strong)— as we drove over ruts, pot holes, and alongside hungry dogs. Much of the taxi’s interior had been removed. Time slowed that summer in San Pedro Sula. Around the rotary, legless men shook their tambourines, epileptics convulsed, and the blind tapped their sticks through donkey excrement.
Not quite death from above. Just a shadow thrown down across the homes below. Not even drowning traffic lights in dark or fire, the volcano long cooled and hardened over. Science has taken our superstitions, our tales of ghosts and lights from God, given us desire to push a broken body to a century’s door. There is a hint of the outside scene through the window blinds, but there’s no way to make out the full image. As a child I tried to master the principles of illusion. Mainly of depth and shading in art.
Yes, I remember that wall in our demolished town. It jutted almost up to the fifth floor. A mirror hung on the fourth, an impossible mirror, unshattered, firmly attached. It didn't reflect anybody's face, no hands arranging hair, no door across the room, nothing you could call a place. As if it were on vacation— the living sky gazed in it, busy clouds in the wild air, the dust of rubble washed by shining rains, birds in flight, stars, sunrises. And like any well-made object, it functioned flawlessly, with an expert lack of astonishment. —Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Baranczak
That I can’t recall my first glimpse of my mother: Alien-eyed, wrapped in alien cloth, how could I? Once she held me she just was my mother. That’s just how it goes. This is just one of many Beautiful moments I’ve been a part of but can’t (And won’t ever) remember. That’s just life, I guess. The void. That’s just a part of life: some hidden cave Sunk deep in the mind and built for Beautiful But Can’t Remember. I saw it once: here dissolving, There reassembling like gleaned second-long seasons. And for what reason? I just don't know. Years asking Myself, Why? Why can we not remember this?
Translator's note: Nizar Qabbani was the most popular and beloved Arab poet of the second half of the twentieth century. He was born in Damascus in 1923. He started out as a romantic poet, with daring poems of love and the heart’s adventures, but eventually he gravitated toward political subjects, and wrote unforgettable poems about the cultural and political maladies of the Arab world—he was a fierce opponent of dictatorship.