MEDITERRANEAN POETS: Achour Fenni

Man of Dust
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Photo: Karolis Zukauskas
Translated from the Arabic by Omar Ziani in collaboration with the poet
A filthy coffee
Sneaked in by a waiter
Who loathed customers
And on the table sat
An angel in a traitor's robe
Forgotten by his bride in his sleep once
So he divorced all cities

In his silence he was
A brook that overflowed its banks
So he went swaggering between two boundaries
The boundary of arms
And the boundary of poverty
He was a prologue to bullets
And a conclusion to a long jog

He wore colored glasses
But saw no rainbow
He drank from all vineyards
But no clouds visited him
Nor mirth
In his heart was a woman in whose heart he was not
In her heart was a man in whose heart she was not
A man in whom no heart was
So he drowned into silence
Till he was uncovered

He stared into his glass:
The wave at the bank was a lie
And the horizon loved no birds
No longer round the earth is
And till the end of life
All lines have waxed straight
And the heart is about to fall into the bend
My kin's eyes have made me homeless
After the drizzle of eyelids
I have wasted a lifetime
Discovering not who I am

He said to me:
The heart has silenced its pain for a while
Then surrendered to crying in Hydra
Tall are the buildings
Broken are the hopes
Vast are the playgrounds
While I...
Stealthily marry in a graveyard!

Then he said:
The faces I once knew
There they are now denying me
And the houses in which I dwelled
There they are now dwelling in me
And the graves that have opened suddenly
Are too small for the country's body!

There is one single coffee
For all the guests
Here is a nation seated
With utensils going round
And a promising hand
Shorn by swords

He directed his heart-beat
Towards spring
And in his blood is belittled the country of jasmine
He was all conviction
But at the blooming of the first bud
He strays!

He told me:
I now know more than ever before
How to become greater than ever before
I will bid you farewell
One by one
And bid farewell to myself
And bury you in the bottom of my glass
So the city overflows with salt and aliens
And at night the city gets drunk
The night is the extinguisher of the faces
Of loved ones and companions

A gorgeous lady passes by him
And the customers are lost in her footsteps!
And in his heart is hummed 'Amina':
A slave, but the city is her captive
Whoever betrays her
Thinks her a traitor
Forgetting what he learnt in her lap!

He told me:
Thus begins the earthquake
A vague ghost in infants' eyes
Cats that steal their way between houses
And cocks that sing on the top of dumps!

He traveled away from himself
And fled to the forest of memory
He is the prisoner of the distance
Who is freed by the jailing step
Whenever he crosses a circle
Around him the circle grows larger
So he turns to himself
And sees how doomsday begins

He told me :
Here is my candle, Sir!
I am extinguished in this sanctuary
I founded my Andalusia with my hands
And lit my blood akin to a sun in darkness
Then destroyed my Andalusia with my hands
May God's favors and peace be over me!

Then he added:
How long are you going to come from every corner
And depart to every corner?
How long am I to remain thus
Exposed to all winds
How long are the ashes of the fires in the footsteps
Of every loved one going to pass through my heart?

Then he added:
When you sit at this corner
Every thing beautiful reveals itself to you
Then you see death in the flowers of a pot
Then you see the sea capture the twilight sun
Around Berlin rages a ferocious battle
And here I am in my country slain!

He used to sing
From so many a disaster
And would count his lost longings
Collect his wondrous dreams
And scatter them in the wind
He would wear the morn's face
Then leave for a catastrophe

He told me:
A passing cloud
That wrote its grief on the lines of my hands
Then cast me to vacant cities
Whenever I shout "My country"
There echo the words "Death Valley"

When night comes
And the city slides into the sea of quiet
He will open a window to pigeons
Then sing
And in his heart lies a sleepless star!

He told me:
This is wheat
My companion from the beginning of creation
Gold and dancing you-you in the distance
And braids laid out for partridges
It is they that fed me with hands
With the taste of honey
It is they that taught me every morn
How to open the book of hope
It is they that loaded my memory with clouds
And entrusted my soul to a probable rain!

Then he said:
When two clouds meet in a jar
Two grieves cross at a feast
And on life shines its bright star
The country flies to an invisible horizon
And the heavens are lit by your wondrous smile

He was a heavy walker
But never arrived
He cleared all stations
He walked on the fringe of life
Till he was perfect
So he walked outside life
Till he was finished!
But hope lived on!!

He told me :
A snail passed by me ignoring everyone
I said "What is the hurry, Snail?"
Many a man has trodden on my stomach
And in the soil of my hand grew a hill
Then came dew
Butterflies
And the killers

Then he added:
Fifty thousand years later
To itself my day returned
With its self-same features
With its features and its flags
And its announced defeats
The sweetness of its dreams
And its broken hopes
To itself my day returned
The way it went by
After fifty thousand years
A stinking corpse

Alone he celebrated ashes
When friends' faces took him by surprise
At the end of his glass
So the feast's grief trembled
He went on erasing his friends' faces
While they floated on water
Until he erased half the face of the country

Then he said:
Whither gardens?
The birds are departing
The songs fill my heart
O you who are leaving
Leave a trace so the stars recognize you
And tell me your whereabouts
When they rest by my side

Then he said:
Whenever snow raids my heart's oasis
And shrouds the palm-trees
Whenever skylarks fly to an uncertain horizon
And my heart to the country of the impossible
Between my ribs abides a grieving grave
And the remains of a wail
And the fine times of my life reveal
The melancholy of a cemetery
And a long winter

Then he added:
Ugliness holds no fear for me
And I have not followed what the majority saw
And I was amongst you alone malevolent and outcast
And here I am a group by myself

He never changed the way they did
Nor did he swerve the way they did
Many a time did they slay, shroud and bury him
And at every demise his first blood resurrects him
He lived an incommensurate life
And achieved a fine dream
And he is still driven by his finest dream

He told me:
I will bear witness for lovers
And be a witness for martyrs
And for mankind since men stood on their feet
And since they walked in light
And I will testify for the earth
That carries water and clay
And raises its stature to heaven

Then he proceeded:
There they are bowing down
Whenever the idol rises
They rise
Whenever the country falls
They wax smal...
Whenever time grows larger!

The earth became too small for him so he grew larger
The heavens fell on his head... He was elevated
He was shrouded in grief, in death
Till he became forever joy
So he was unlike anyone
He sought for himself the help of pain!

He was not wont to waiting
For a miracle that would not come
And he never broke down
When he saw all his dreams commit suicide
But he saw how to build his most wondrous dreams
While guarding all mankind's dreams

The city's dogs assaulted him when he was with the princess:
-Who are you?
*I know you from your filth
-Where do you live?
*Under the city
-From which gate did you enter?
*Large are the eyes of my beloved
And I am a lover and lean
While my beloved was born in the fine times
And on her lips stands the rose of the impossible
And I am on her eyelashes
A killer or a victim!

He told me:
I remember them when they stand before me
Smiling
So I shake their hands
Then withdraw my hand in full
Not a bit missing from it
Then bid them farewell

Then he said:
The bullet is one
But comes from two directions
If it leaves a trace on my forehead
It shall open in my killer two fronts
And he who cries over my dead body once
Shall cry for my killer twice

Then he added:
I write poems when the city becomes too small for poets
And besieges them with headlines, foreign papers and electricity
And I fight when I am beleaguered by Karbalaa
And communicate what prophets have not

The war has become routine
And we are smeared with war's blood
Like women are smeared by their menses
Fair are all battles
From the powerful come the weapons
And from the weak come the bodies
Birds are seeking their livelihood in the trenches
While the snails little do they care
In their fortresses
And the press
Comes laden and organized and armed
To cover the event


He told me:
The country has adorned me with its accent
And its rifles
And cast me on a stallion of smoke
I have waged my battle against myself
And against time
My country has been victorious many a time
But fails to see me

Then he said:
With both hands the flag I carried
And fought till it was shredded in the fire
So I held it-while it was falling-with the stumps of my shoulders
And for love I fought till I was slain
So I fought in death
Till I was buried in two cemeteries
And every morn I rise
To treat a grave and two witnessing tombstones

War has become like this :
All paths are closed
Graves are open
Streets are standing
Capital cities are prone
Infants have no milk
And in their eyes twinkle weapons

He told me:
The men who belonged to the mountains
Are scattered by wars
And exhausted by internal warring
Years have come and gone
And the only victor in the battles
Are the mountains that joined the men

He told me:
In the wars of Yemen
Rely not on swords
And trust not a tenant of an atom of the country
Who adjusts it to his corpse
And aims from it at a given spot
And leaves it in a shroud!

Then he added:
When the storm was over
Faces and heads rolled
But masks did not fall
Then the earth turned its usual turn
And ants occupied a minaret
While the elephant slid into the shell

Those lunatics!
They exit from the mouths of dwellings
And form the shots of anthems
From a rose in a book
A scratch on the wall
Mothers that beget angels
And a prophet that prays on a stone
On infants' palms
This is war being cooked in our local oil
On a stove from overseas

He said to me:
I was no lover like I was when I saw stone
Bend in a sculptor's hands
While he made womenfolk out of stone!

And he added:
I have never been more a poet
Than I was this morning
Girls passed on my liver
Dew and daisies on their cheeks
So I wished I would vanish as an example
And blow on them like the wind

Then he added:
Two shots...
A star retreating behind smoke
And a tank advancing
The houses are resisting
And streets raid people
A song announcing the wedding
And blood opening the festival

He told me:
We have exulted...
But it is a mere passing wave
That plays havoc with our cups
So God appeared to us
In a barren image
And he guided us anew to our creeds
And we have become through his grace nations
That walk in the footsteps
Of ancient nations

Then he said:
I have not been convinced ever
By those who come and depart
As if they neither come nor depart
I have not pursued
Any great illusion
But when I cross akin to lightning
I leave in every memory
A country breaking out

And he added:
I will not wage war
For war has entered imagination
And there is no difference between victory and defeat
And I will not make peace...
If war is a disaster
Then peace is a crime
I will not wage war
I will not make peace
But I will expand my old war
To free what of blood is captive in banks
And kill the feast with which they adorned
My skull

Then he said:
We shall make a feast this eve
With what songs come easy
And what friends we can find
As the Ethiopian exults with a grain of wheat
And the Arab with a drop of water
As those far away wax merry
When they smell the breeze from their kin and friends
As those astray are guided by their star
When the stars of the sky let them down

A man of dust
Used to come to our block
Sowing dreams in balconies
Then depart
And in his footsteps rise the flowers of grenadine?









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