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Posts Tagged ‘poems about exile’

My copy of Louder than Heartsthe new and potent collection from Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, arrived in the mail just last week–and it’s been traveling close by me from room to room ever since.

zeinas-photo

“I Dreamt We Threw Bread Crumbs”

I dreamt we threw bread crumbs
in the sea, waited to catch
a glimpse of our hunger, our hope,
rising out of this dark.

You fished out a tin can;
before we ate it
you told me to listen to the prayer
inside it—our prayer.

You mapped my body in chalk
on the sidewalk. My longing
was ruby-colored. I wore it
around my neck, and everything
was drunkenness and dance, every day
a kind of drowning—

the shawarma on the skewers,
the plastic roses in the children’s hands,
the antennas scribbled across the sky.
Only the clotheslines knew
of our leaving and returning,
and they wept.

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Over the years, I find myself returning again and again to the luminous verse of the great Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001). This particular favorite can be found in A Nostalgist’s Map of America via his collected works, The Veiled Suite
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“Beyond the Ash Rains”

What have you known of loss
That makes you different from other men?
– Gilgamesh.

When the desert refused my history,
refused to acknowledge that I had lived
there, with you, among a vanished tribe,

two, three thousand years ago, you parted
the dawn rain, its thickest monsoon curtains,

and beckoned me to the northern canyons.
There, among the red rocks, you lived alone.
I had still not learned the style of nomads:

to walk between the rain drops to keep dry.
Wet and cold, I spoke like a poor man,

without irony. You showed me the relics
of our former life, proof that we’d at last
found each other, but in your arms I felt

singled out for loss. When you lit the fire
and poured the wine, “I am going,” I murmured,

repeatedly, “going where no one has been
and no one will be… Will you come with me?”
You took my hand, and we walked through the streets

of an emptied world, vulnerable
to our suddenly bare history in which I was,

but you said won’t again be, singled
out for loss in your arms, won’t ever again
be exiled, never again, from your arms.

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I hope that after reading this poem you will understand why I’ve recently been captivated by the work of Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (1969-), who was forced into exile in 2012 and now lives in London. He is often described as one of today’s leading African poets writing in Arabic; if you’d like to read more of these beautiful translations, check out the collection where this poem lives, A Monkey at the Window

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“A Body”

The body of a bird in your mouth
breathing songs.
Raw light spills from your eyes,
utterly naked.

You must breach the horizon, once,
in order to wake up.
You must open window after window.
You must support the walls.

I let alphabets cling to me
as I climb the thread of language
between myself and the world.
I muster crowds in my mouth:
suspended between language and the world,
between the world and the alphabets.

I let my head
listen to the myth,
to all sides praising each other.
And I shout at the winds from the top of a mountain.

Why does my tongue tell me to climb this far?
What is the distance between my voice and my longing?
What is there?

A body transcending my body.
A body exiled by desire.
A body sheltered by the wind.

Translated by Sarah Maguire and Atef Alshaer

 

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