“Military Court” and other poems

Translated from Arabic by Khaled Mattawa

Military Court

Fifty years have passed since you brought me
to the Taji Camp in Baghdad,
and shivering,
on trial.
My three judges, as you’d decided, were officers
and they shone with the
and manners of officers.
As for me, chained and exhausted, I was the prisoner.
My guards, who took turns beating me, disappeared.
Alone with the officers,
I was not afraid; but a bird was pecking my forehead saying:
“Lift your head!
The man you want to be when you live again: Raise him!
I command you,
lift your head.
Poets and trees must rise!”


Elsinore Castle

Your blindness will come to an end. Clouds loaded with snow from the North Sea will soon depart, heading south. The olives in Cadis will sip on the snow. And the clouds may cross the sea aiming for the sands of Africa.

Everything that makes the universe closer may suddenly disappear. Around you the
trench suffocates.
The sun is legend.
We read her secrets and her heat in the Book of Legends.
No worries!
And the sea?
Those boulders crashing like waves,
Hamlet used to sail from here.
From here
the English king was told: Let’s kill Hamlet.
But the murdered man became a murderer.
Cold enters the blood,
the royal hall enters the blood.
The ladder stairway in the blood of the play now opens
to me.
I come in
and climb and climb until I see the ghost king.
The yawning guard glimpses a strand of hair,
he sees the night has turned golden.
And I climb
and climb,
and in the same way that gulls at the cliff peep and snatch,
I see Hamlet.
He’s shivering from the horror of his father’s eyes,
“Denmark is a prison!”


The Philosophers

At the reception desk
sit the philosophers.
Sometimes they listen to me
and I always listen to them:
The news. Market talk. The corrupt politicians of our time, etc.
But yesterday the hotel reception philosophers
brought news that terrified me.
The sea will drown Tangier, they said, starting from the port
(on the first day)
and will reach the M’sallah market
(on the seventh).
I told them: Tangier is high.
The sea will not drown it.
They asked me:
“Is Tangier really that high up?
Will Tangier survive?”