My lungs are my poetry, my eyes a book

Dear readers,

Thank you for following me on this month’s journey in verse. It’s always a pleasure to share the words that have woven themselves into my past year and to seek out new poets to introduce to you all. I hope you’ve encountered at least a few pieces along the way that have moved or confounded, delighted or enlivened you.

April’s final poem comes from the great Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber, who began writing under the name Adonis (1930-) in his late teenage years. As I mentioned in this month’s introductory post, the current state of the world has increasingly inspired me to turn to poetry for solace and sense. This song from Adonis is one I hold close to me as I try to comprehend the enormous weight of it all while still remembering those birds at the edges of our shared sky.

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“Song”

from “Elegy for the First Century”

Bells on our eyelashes
and the death throes of words,
and I among fields of speech,
a knight on a horse made of dirt.
My lungs are my poetry, my eyes a book,
and I, under the skin of words,
on the beaming banks of foam,
a poet who sang and died
leaving this singed elegy
before the faces of poets,
for birds at the edge of sky.
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translated by Khaled Mattawa

My body is an eternal motion outside itself.

The Syrian poet, translator, and essayist Adonis (1930-) was born to a small family of farmers in the Al Qassabin village and taught to read and memorize poems by his father. He is now one of the most celebrated living Arab poets–check out this fascinating article about his life.

“Motion”

I travel outside my body, and inside me there are continents
that I do not know. My body
is an eternal motion outside itself.
I don’t ask: From where? Or where were you? I ask, where do I go?
The sand looks at me and turns me into sand,
and the water looks at me and brothers me.

Truly, there is nothing to dusk but memory.

and early I learned that wounds made me.

The poet, translator, editor, and theorist Adonis (1930- ) was born Ali Ahmed Said in Syria’s Al Qassabin village to a family of farmers. He is now often referred to as one of the greatest living poets of the Arab world. The incredible narrative that bridges those two facts is definitely worth a read. But first, this beautiful, chilling poem.

“Celebrating Childhood”

Even the wind wants
to become a cart
pulled by butterflies.

I remember madness
leaning for the first time
on the mind’s pillow.
I was talking to my body then
and my body was an idea
I wrote in red.

Red is the sun’s most beautiful throne
and all the other colors
worship on red rugs.

Night is another candle.
In every branch, an arm,
a message carried in space
echoed by the body of the wind.

The sun insists on dressing itself in fog
when it meets me:
Am I being scolded by the light?

Oh, my past days—
they used to walk in their sleep
and I used to lean on them.

Love and dreams are two parentheses.
Between them I place my body
and discover the world.

Many times
I saw the air fly with two grass feet
and the road dance with feet made of air.

My wishes are flowers
staining my days.

I was wounded early,
and early I learned
that wounds made me.

I still follow the child
who still walks inside me.

Now he stands at a staircase made of light
searching for a corner to rest in
and to read the face of night again.

If the moon were a house,
my feet would refuse to touch its doorstep.

They are taken by dust
carrying me to the air of seasons.

I walk,
one hand in the air,
the other caressing tresses
that I imagine.

A star is also
a pebble in the field of space.

He alone
who is joined to the horizon
can build new roads.

A moon, an old man,
his seat is night
and light is his walking stick.

What shall I say to the body I abandoned
in the rubble of the house
in which I was born?
No one can narrate my childhood
except those stars that flicker above it
and that leave footprints
on the evening’s path.

My childhood is still
being born in the palms of a light
whose name I do not know
and who names me.

Out of that river he made a mirror
and asked it about his sorrow.
He made rain out of his grief
and imitated the clouds.

Your childhood is a village.
You will never cross its boundaries
no matter how far you go.

His days are lakes,
his memories floating bodies.

You who are descending
from the mountains of the past,
how can you climb them again,
and why?

Time is a door
I cannot open.
My magic is worn,
my chants asleep.

I was born in a village,
small and secretive like a womb.
I never left it.
I love the ocean not the shores.

from Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa