Tarek Eltayeb – Joseph’s Traces

Tarek Altayeb LEP&W V1 Dec 2022

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One December 2022.

Joseph’s Traces, poems byTarek Eltayeb.

Translated from Arabic by Wolfgang Astelbauer.

Joseph’s Traces

They pass colored threads
through the eyes of thousands of needles
for a shirt washed with many sighs.
And he has no idea about it.
Slipping on all these fingers,
he feels the stitches stripping him to the skin.
He remains patient for a while
until the horses have passed.
He takes off the shirt
reading Joseph’s traces on his chest.
He gets frightened
realizing that his father is dead
and his back naked in a twofold way.
He closes his eyes,
sharpening his hearing
for the distant howls
coming nearer and nearer.
Hastily, he writes into the sand,
closing his eyes and his ears.


After the young man
had stranded,
the sea spewed
him up here,
his exhausted body
lay between dogs and policemen’s shoes.
His soul was still out there,
would follow on some cloud.

He discovered it
when it descended
in the late afternoon.
With one hand
on his the forehead
against the blinding sun,
he tried
to shoo it away,
to deter it
from staying in this country.

In vain.

The soul lay down beside him,
the dogs barked at it,
the shoe of a policeman
already treading on it.

Toothless Sea

The toothless sea
still sucks at the sun at night
and at the moon by day.

When it weeps,
it dries up,
parching the fish
like scab,
turning the whales
into combs in the sand.

The older the sea gets,
the more it does without
the sun and the moon,
making friends with the wind,
yearning for the adventures
of pirates and cunning explorers.

It guffaws,
drops some land,
devouring an island.
Yet, at the end of its way,
it plunges into the blue,
without knowing
the difference
between sea and sky.
Thinning out,
drying up,
it dies
a toothless sea.

© Tarek Eltayeb

Tarek Eltayeb was born to Sudanese parents in Cairo in 1959. He has been living in Vienna since 1984. He has published five novels, two collections of short stories, five collections of poems, a play, an autobiography and a book of essays. His books had been translated into German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, Macedonian, Romanian and Serbian languages.  In 2008, he was appointed Austrian Ambassador for the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue (EJID). In the same year, he received the Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria. He is a faculty member of the International Writing Program (IWP) Between the Lines at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, USA. He was awarded the International Grand Prize for Poetry 2007 at the International Festival Curtea de Argeş in Romania. His awards include the Elias Cannetti Fellowship from the City of Vienna.

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