From the mirrors of your knees the day begins its journey

This love poem from Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) stopped me in my tracks when I recently encountered it in an anthology of Arab poetry I randomly pulled out from a library shelf. Devastatingly beautiful.

Poems

Between us
twenty years of age
between your lips and my lips
when they meet and stay
the years collapse
the glass of a whole life shatters.

The day I met you I tore up
all my maps
an my prophecies
like an Arab stallion I smelled the rain
of you
before it wet me
heard the pulse of your voice
before you spoke
undid your hair with my hands
before you had braided it

There is nothing I can do
nothing you can do
what can the wound do
with the knife on the way to it?

Your eyes are like a night of rain
in which ships are sinking
and all I wrote is forgotten
In mirrors there is no memory.

God how is it that we surrender
to love giving it the keys to our city
carrying candles to it and incense
falling down at its feet asking
to be forgiven
Why do we look for it and endure
all that it does to us
all that it does to us?

Woman in whose voice
silver and wine mingle
in the rains
From the mirrors of your knees
the day begins its journey
life puts out to sea

I knew when I said
I love you
that I was inventing a new alphabet
for a city where no one could read
that I was saying my poems
in an empty theater
and pouring my wine
for those who could not
taste it.

When God gave you to me
I felt that He had loaded
everything my way
and unsaid all His sacred books.

Who are you
woman entering my life like a dagger
mild as the eyes of a rabbit
soft as the skin of a plum
pure as strings of jasmine
innocent as children’s bibs
and devouring like words?

Your love threw me down
in a land of wonder
it ambushed me like the scent
of a woman stepping into an elevator
it surprised me
in a coffee bar
sitting over a poem
I forgot the poem
It surprised me
reading the lines in my palm
I forgot my palm
It dropped on me like a blind deaf
wildfowl
its feathers became tangled with mine
its cries were twisted with mine

It surprised me
as I sat on my suitcase
waiting for the train of days
I forgot the days
I traveled with you
to the land of wonder

Your image is engraved
on the face of my watch
It is engraved on each of the hands
It is etched on the weeks
months years
My time is no longer mine
it is you

Translated by Lena Jayyusi and W. S. Merwin

I love a firmness in you that disdains the trivial

I love this Robert Bly poem so much that I’m going to post it again this year. He’s a big fan of repetition, of letting the words sink in once, twice, three more times, so I think he would approve.

“Indigo Bunting”

I go to the door often.
Night and summer. Crickets
lift their cries.
I know you are out.
You are driving
late through the summer night.

I do not know what will happen.
I have no claim on you.
I am one star
you have as guide; others
love you, the night
so dark over the Azores.

You have been working outdoors,
gone all week. I feel you
in this lamp lit
so late. As I reach for it
I feel myself
driving through the night.

I love a firmness in you
that disdains the trivial
and regains the difficult.
You become part then
of the firmness of night,
the granite holding up walls.

There were women in Egypt who
supported with their firmness the stars
as they revolved,
hardly aware
of the passage from night
to day and back to night.

I love you where you go
through the night, not swerving,
clear as the indigo
bunting in her flight,
passing over two
thousand miles of ocean