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Live Encounters Arab Poets in Translation August 2023
The death of a poet, poem by Hassan Najmi.
The death of a poet
To a poet friend
I do not trust this morning
This sun is not mine
It will betray me as it betrayed you (and it came to me that you left).
I found, when I woke up, my face silent
Suddenly, as if the depression of eternity was under my skin
And I ran with the eyes of a blind
As if, the night swallowed my way to you
My fingers were groping the distance to your funeral
And your mother raises her eyes to the ceiling, searching for the light.
As if, the room of the universe was darkened
She was spreading her arms. And she cries. And she asks: “Where is Saeed?”
And she sees you wrapped in your shroud
And she lays down to cover up the night that has begun
She leans like a white cloud over the thought of your grave
She kisses the stone of hardness
Only, the mother knows that her kisses have a scent
I stretch out the hands of the two sisters and thank the feathers of the womb
And I wipe away the tears with which she bathed
Then I see her as a winged butterfly praying
And she lights up. And prays
Then she remembers you
She hopes to see you as she used to see you standing at the door
When she will raise her head from prayer
(We did not get along like this, my son. Why did you precede me in death?)
And Saeed shaded his eyes with his hand, shy, from her halo of light.
God forbid, my mother, but death preceded me for the ringing of your voice, so
that I would not hear it. Into your hands so that I do not take your touch with
me. To your lips so that I may be naked from your kiss. To your feet so that I
do not take with me a promise of your paradise. Into your eyes so that I may
retire in the dust alone behind your gaze. Oh, my mother, death preceded me to
me, so that the cry of the living flee from me. And I go with a fading wing to the
height of the night, broken like the edge of a well, alone under the grass. The
eve supplicates on your carpet. There, in that remote seclusion, I did not find
the day of your fingers.
My mother, my grave is as cold as a bed from which I have been absent all my
life. My gaze grew dim – and this darkness separates me from the stars of your
eyes. Now I lie down in the whiteness of contentment. I took with me nothing
but what was left of my clay (Oh, the reed cultivar!). Oh, my mother, from the
emptiness of your palms from the gods who gave up, and a hole that wants
your mirror to turn away from my face!
I do not deserve this silence that escapes with my life
I lived in thunder drums. The horses pass by me, and I shudder to neigh.
Horizons scream around me. And crowns of thorns on my head, and I care
not for the flocks. I lived to establish hope. I lived in the atlas of life awakening
aspirations. Steps sway in my ways. And my feet bleed, and I walk as blood in
the basins. The coral of your rosary shines in my eyes. And I search for words
that suit me. I nurture my poem in the habit of your weeping. Wherever I go,
I hide my weeping. And whenever my cry called, I rushed with terrified tears
from you to you.
I do not deserve – now now – this death
What are they going to do with my bag of bones?
Pray for me.
And if I open the door, forgive me the wall of the night
I was sheltering in your tears
I preserved the estate of my soul in breast milk.
But it is black, mom
Because of this blackness, which we call sorrow, my heart fell
Because of grief, the blood dried up with the throat of the songs
Because of this singing, the life trailer broke down
And I am going to stop there
I click the wood of the coffin so that my poem does not darken
And I shake a little, so that the dust does not clump on the linen of death
I am afraid that forgetfulness will be older than my age
The poet is like this –
Mad with a touch of life
Of a language, of love, of a memory, and of orphanage.
Oh how beautiful your prayer robe, the braid fall on it and henna leaves
grow! Cloves bloom on your face. And my face is in the flames of forgiveness.
And your look that weeps is not more difficult for God than its late loneliness
behind the casket!
I have turned the key of eternity and closed my hands.
My life hastened me. I suddenly became an ally of the night. Rain is pouring
down on my grave now (is this the time for it?) Like water dancing on the
tiles, so the hooks quenched. Leaves of grass rise up, scatter a little, as if to
cover the stele. There, behind the wall of the garden, the heads of grain began
to bow. Mother, why does death cough when I do not see anyone’s face here?
And what did I come to do in this far hallway? No one told me why my shadow
was broken on the ground. And why my way has escaped from my step. Is
there anyone who can tell me why I left you my share of pain? And I hastened
on, as if I were enjoying the darkness.
Now – like a bird I go leaving, oh Hassan Najmi, my song is in your throat!
How do I know I am going to close my book on the far shelf.
And why did I leave my friends as startled as they looked? As if I were a
narcissistic friend who changed the patch of the land and left a crowd of
broken hearts. As if, I gave up. It was shabby time; undo its robe, so I withdrew.
The windows fell asleep, and the roads turned away behind me. I did not have
a look left to turn around.
Death and absence alone do not forget (I have to fade away).
Now – the silence cracks like a lonely snow that no one hears
All the dead cool down –
But I burn as if they shrouded me in the ashes of a volcano
I see them moving the tongs of the fire under me
The paving stones are starting to get distracted by the walking ritual
(I soon forgot my step).
Now – I hold life and go
Please remember me. Do not leave me under the tree of forgetfulness
I have plenty of time to hear young women and the bleating of sheep
I have enough hours to wait for a step
Please visit me. And stay in life
© Hassan Najmi
Hassan Najmi (1960, Ibn Ahmed, Settat province) is a Moroccan poet, author, and journalist. He was The President of the Union of Writers of Morocco between 1998 and 2005 and former head of the House of Poetry in Morocco. He is also the President of the Moroccan Center for the International PEN Club and Secretary General of the Argana Prize for Poetry. He founded the House of Poetry in Morocco, along with a group of Moroccan poets (December 1995) and was elected vice-president and spokesperson for the House. He received many Arab and international awards, and his works have been translated into more than ten languages. He has also translated into Arabic the poetic works of a number of the world’s leading poets.