Monday’s Verse 3/26/2018

Dear readers,

I’m not sure yet if Badr Shakir al Sayyab (1926-1964) is my kind of poet, but he’s my kind of guy. In his life, he was a teacher, a date-taster, a security guard for a road-paving company, a civil servant, and a poet. He died young of complications from ALS.

Sayyab was one of the most influential modern Arabic poets. His volume The Rain Song revolutionized the use of myth in a modern idiom, a strategy that can be seen below. He was an advocate and translator of T.S. Eliot, whose mythophilia he shared. Enjoy, and have a great week. -ed.

DAY HAS GONE

Day has gone.
See. Its wick has died
on a horizon glowing, fireless,
and here you sit, waiting
for Sindbad to return.
Behind you the sea cries out
in tempests, in thunder.
He will not return.
Haven’t you heard? The sea gods
have imprisoned him in a black castle,
in islands of blood, of oyster shells.
He will not return.
Day has gone
so go now, go.
He will not be back.

The horizon – forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

As though your left wrist,
as though your left arm were waving
behond his hour of death,
as if it were a lighthouse
on some shore, reserved for death,
a shore which dreams of ships
always in wait.
Day has gone.
If only time would stop, but no.
Time’s little steps are heard
even in the grave,
even by the stones.

Day has gone.
Day has gone.

The horizon – forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

Sinbad could not ward off ruin
from your golden hair.
Your locks reached down and drank the brine.
The ocean salt turned gold to white,
and all your love letters are washed away,
the glitter of vows dissolved.
And here you sit waiting,
dazed, with whirling thoughts:
"He will come back. No, his ship has gone down headlong.
He will come back. No, the wailing winds have detained him.
O Sindbad, will you ever come back?
The time of my youth has almost run out.
Lilies have wilted in my cheeks.
So when will you come back?

Stretch out your hands –
The heart will use them to fashion its new world.
It will destroy the world of talons,
of frenzy and blood.
It will, if only for a while,
build its own universe.

Oh, when will you come back?
Will you know, I wonder, when daylight fades,
how much the fingers’ silence knows
about the flashes of the unseen
in life’s darkness?
Oh, let me have your fists.
They fall as snow falls,
no matter where I look,
as snow descends upon my palms
and falls headlong into my heart.
How often have I dreamed about those fists,
as two flowers growing by a stream
unfolding where my loneliness wanders, lost."
Day has gone.
And the ocean, empty, vast,
no singing save the roar of waves.
There appears only one sail
inebriated by the lashing winds.
Nothing flutters on the water’s face
except your waiting heart.
Day has gone
So go now, go.
Day has gone.

Trans. Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard

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