and the wood glistens as if in praise

I’ve always been grateful for the Libyan-born writer and scholar Khaled Mattawa (1974-) and his translations of beloved poets (Adonis, Saadi Youssef, etc.), but today I am enjoying his own poetry, which I’ve only recently begun to explore.

Khaled Mattawa, Translator/Poet, University of Michigan

“Before”

Somewhere beyond faith and grace there is
the footprint of logic lost in the purest light.

Not hidden at all, but a vehicle, a necessity, neither
mop nor bucket, but whatever gives the floor its shine.

The sun through the window pours on the floor,
and the wood glistens as if in praise.
As if a child breaking into a run. That is what I see

through the window now. A child breaking
into a run for the simple flame that must burn
and because there are such words.

Of course, I could be wailing.
Of course, the child is not a memory,
only a gesture on my part.

Yesterday, I fed a friend’s cat and talked to her,
the town was emptied and filled with
snow embroidered with tire tracks.

I fed a friend’s cat and she rubbed her sides against my calves.

The thing to say now is that I am in the middle of a life
in a house with the owners on holiday.

Or to say a car engine hums (the owner forgetting
the keys inside), and is on its way to a crystalline loss.

Here deduction is howling at an oncoming storm.

The thing is, I fed a friend’s cat and later poured
a bowl of milk for her and she sniffed it,
barely licked it, and left.

The thought is. The life is.

I’ve visited graves—tombstones ten feet high.
I ran through the cemetery and laughed my Cairo laugh.
I wanted to be arrested by the police, wanted

someone to take down what I had to say.
Whatever I would have said then would have been the truth.

But there was no one there.
Only dust and a shitload of romance.

Only dust and the hum of the interstate. Detroit,
Toledo, the hitchhiker hums a foreign song.

I feed the cat and talk to her.
I take the milk away and begin to forget
and the cat stares at the missing milk.

Billions of snowflakes in between,
and the befores that follow the first before.

_

(from Tocqueville) 

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