Mu'allaqa

By Imru'al-qays Imru'al-qays

A tribute by Frederick Seidel Read the translator's notes

A tribute

The elephant's trunk uncurling   
From the lightning flashes
In the clouds was Marie Antoinette,
As usual trumpeting.
The greedy suction
Was her tornado vacuuming across the golden Kansas flatness.

Meanwhile, the count was talking to the swan.
The swan liked what he was saying and got   
Right out of the pond.
Meanwhile, grown men in Afghanistan.
The count had fought in Algeria.   
Meanwhile, neon in Tokyo.

Madame la Comtesse waved to us from the top step,
Waved to her count, their swan, their ornamental pond, et moi.
We were a towering cornucopia   
Of autumn happiness   
And gourmandise rotating counterclockwise,
Backwards toward the guillotine.

I kept a rainbow as a pet and grandly
Walked the rainbow on a leash.
I exercised it evenings together with the cheetah,
A Thorstein Veblen moment of conspicuous consumption:
A dapper dauphin in a T-shirt that said FRED
Parading with his pets decked out in T-shirts that said FRED'S.

I left my liver in the Cher.
I ate my heart out en Berry.
We drank and ate
France between the wars,
And every morning couldn't wait.
It felt sunshiny in the shadow of the château.

And when the rainbow leapt from there to here,
It landed twenty years away from the Cher.
The place it landed was the Persian Gulf.
It landed twinkling stardust where I'm standing in my life
With one-hump Marie Antoinette, my wife,
Who resembles that disarming camel yesterday.

In fact, the camel yesterday was smitten.
She left the other camels to come over.
You have a lovely liquid wraparound eye.
She stood there looking at me sideways.
They feed their racing camels caviar in Qatar.   
The ruler of Dubai has said that he will try to buy Versailles.

A refrigerated ski slope, five stories high,
Lives improbably inside a downtown shopping mall in Dubai.
Arab men, wearing sneakers under their robes, hold hands.
Faceless black veils stop shopping to watch through the glass.
Seeing the skiers emphasizes the desert,
Like hearing far-off thunder at a picnic.

Both the word thunder and the word picnic are of course Arabic.
Indeed, Arabic was the language of French aristocrats
Before the Terror, bad body odor perfumed.
It is the language of the great Robert Frost poems,
Which have the suicide bomber's innocence
Walking safely past the checkpoint into the crowd.

They pay payola to Al Qaeda to stay away from Doha.
The emir was in his counting-house, counting out his oil and gas.
Another sunny Sunni day in the UAE!
A candidate for president
Who wants to manumit our oil-dependent nation
First has to get the message to every oily girl and boy

To just say no to up and down and in and out, Labanotation
Of moaning oil rigs extracting oil joy.
My fellow Americans, I see a desert filled with derricks   
Pumping up and down but never satisfied:
Obsessional hydraulics and Jimi Hendrix has hysterics.
I smash my guitar to bits on stage and that's all, folks!

It isn't.
I contemplate the end of the world. It isn't.
I have my croissant and café and the Trib and walk the rainbow
Around the block.   
The young North African hipsters in the bitter banlieues
Contemplate the end of the world.

I contemplate the end of the world but in my case
It's not.
There are still things to buy.
I walk the rainbow in the dark.
The world is the kiosk where I get my Herald Tribune.
The world is my local café where my café au lait is quadroon.

I go to the strange little statue of Pierre Mendès-France
In the Jardin du Luxembourg, in Paris, France.
I make a pilgrimage to it.
My quaint political saint and I visit.
The young North African hipsters in the bitter banlieues
Contemplate the end of the world, which isn't

The end of the world, though yes, quite true,
In Algeria and Afghanistan
Jihad is developing a dirty nuclear bomb
That smells like frangipani in flower
To keep Frangipani in power.   
Ayatollah Frangipani has returned from his long exile in France   

To annihilate vice.
I stomp the campfire out and saddle up my loyal Mayflower
Who is swifter than a life is brief under the stars!
My prize four-wheel-drive with liquid wraparound eyes!
We ski the roller coaster ocean's up and down dunes.
We reach land at last and step on Plymouth Rock.

Source: Poetry (April 2008).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2008

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION Middle East

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.