Desert

By Adonis b. 1930 Adonis

Translated By Khaled Mattawa

The cities dissolve, and the earth is a cart loaded with dust
Only poetry knows how to pair itself to this space.
 
No road to this house, a siege,
and his house is graveyard.
               From a distance, above his house
               a perplexed moon dangles
               from threads of dust.
 
I said: this is the way home, he said: No
               you can’t pass, and aimed his bullet at me.
Very well then, friends and their homes
                in all of Beirut’s are my companions.
 
Road for blood now—
               Blood about which a boy talked
               whispered to his friends:
                              nothing remains in the sky now
                              except holes called “stars.”
 
The city’s voice was too tender, even the winds
would not tune its strings—
The city’s face beamed
like a child arranging his dreams for nightfall
bidding the morning to sit beside him on his chair.
 
 
They found people in bags:
              a person                                                 without a head 
              a person                                                 without hands, or tongue
              a person                                                 choked to death
              and the rest had no shapes and no names.
                             —Are you mad? Please
                                                             don’t write about these things.
A page in a book
              bombs mirror themselves inside of it
              prophecies and dust-proverbs mirror themselves inside of it 
              cloisters mirror themselves inside of it, a carpet made of the alphabet
                             disentangles thread by thread
falls on the face of the city, slipping out of the needles of memory.
A murderer in the city’s air, swimming through its wound—
its wound is a fall
that trembled to its name—to the hemorrhage of its name
and all that surrounds us—
houses left their walls behind
                                               and I am no longer I.
 
Maybe there will come a time in which you’ll accept     
to live deaf and mute, maybe
they’ll allow you to mumble: death
                                                and life
                                                resurrection
                                                and peace unto you.
 
From the wine of the palms to the quiet of the desert . . . et cetera
from a morning that smuggles its own intestines
               and sleeps on the corpses of the rebels . . . et cetera
from streets, to trucks
               from soldiers, armies . . . et cetera
from the shadows of men and women . . . et cetera
from bombs hidden in the prayers of monotheists and infidels . . . et cetera
from iron that oozes iron and bleeds flesh . . . et cetera
from fields that long for wheat, and grass and working hands . . . et cetera
from forts that wall our bodies
               and heap darkness upon us . . . et cetera
from legends of the dead who pronounce life, who steer our life . . . et cetera
from talk that is slaughter           and slaughter         and slitters of throats . . . et cetera
from darkness to darkness to darkness
I breathe, touch my body, search for myself
               and for you, and for him, and for the others
 
and I hang my death
between my face and this hemorrhage of talk . . . et cetera
 
 
You will see—
                say his name
                say you drew his face
                reach out your hand toward him
                or smile
                or say I was happy once
                or say I was sad once
                you will see:
                                 there is no country there.
 
 
Murder has changed the city’s shape—this stone
                                                                 is a child’s head—
and this smoke is exhaled from human lungs.
Each thing recites its exile . . .                a sea
                                              of blood—and what
do you expect on these mornings except their arteries set to sail
into the darkness, into the tidal wave of slaughter?
 
 
Stay up with her, don’t let up—
she sits death in her embrace
and turns over her days
                                              tattered sheets of paper.
Guard the last pictures
of her topography—
she is tossing and turning in the sand
in an ocean of sparks—
on her bodies
are the spots of human moans.
 
Seed after seed are cast into our earth—
fields feeding on our legends,
guard the secret of these bloods.
                               I am talking about a flavor to the seasons
                               and a flash of lightning in the sky.
 
 
Tower Square—(an engraving whispers its secrets
                                                               to bombed-out bridges . . . )
Tower Square—(a memory seeks its shape
                                                               among dust and fire . . . )
Tower Square—(an open desert
                                                               chosen by winds and vomited  . . . by them . . . )
Tower Square—(It’s magical
                                              to see corpses move/their limbs    
                                              in one alleyway, and their ghosts    
                                              in another/and to hear their sighs . . . )
Tower Square—(West and East
                                and gallows are set up—
                                martyrs, commands . . . )
Tower Square—(a throng
                of caravans: myrrh
                                               and gum Arabica and musk
                                                              and spices that launch the festival . . . )
Tower Square—(let go of time . . .
                                              in the name of place)
 
—Corpses or destruction,
                  is this the face of Beirut?
—and this
                a bell, or a scream?
—A friend?
—You? Welcome.
               Did you travel? Have you returned? What’s new with you?
—A neighbor got killed . . . /
 
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 
A game /
—Your dice are on a streak.
—Oh, just a coincidence /
 
                                   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 
                                              Layers of darkness
                                              and talk dragging more talk.         

Adonis, “Desert” from Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa. Copyright © 2010 by Adonis. Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press.

Source: Selected Poems (Yale University Press, 2010)

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Poet Adonis b. 1930

POET’S REGION Middle East

Subjects Living, Death, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Biography

Arab poet, translator, editor, and theorist Ali Ahmad Said Esber was the eldest of six children born to a family of farmers in Syria’s Al Qassabin village. Though they could not afford the cost of formal education, Adonis’s father taught his son to read and helped him memorize poems while he worked on the family farm. At fourteen, Adonis recited a poem to the president of Syria during his visit a neighboring town, after which . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION Middle East

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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