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.
The plague you have thus far survived. They didn’t. Nothing that they did in bed that you didn’t. Writing a poem, I cleave to “you.” You means I, one, you, as well as the you inside you constantly talk to. Without justice or logic, without sense, you survived. They didn’t. Nothing that they did in bed that you didn’t. Frank Bidart is an American poet. This poem appeared in the February 16, 2012 issue of the magazine.
Lift me up, Severn, for I am dying. Do not be afraid. are good for us: beets, raspberries, tomatoes. Watermelon. Is this supposed to remind us of the blood and water of our beginning? Or of our end? Face down in a mess of noise, and light, and hair, I don’t like it. I bawl. The furball of memory and regret not yet stuck in my throat, unable to go up or down, I am an unplanted seed, all hope and striving. Later for angioplasty, ramipril, and tasteless cereal. Kashi Go Lean. My ataxia is normal.