Salah Abu-Lawi

 

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Salah Abu-Lawi, a poet of Palestinian descent, was born in Zarqa, Jordan in 1963. He started writing poetry in his early teens. He is a member of the Jordanian Writers Association, General Union of Arab Writers, and numerous literary groups. He has participated in poetry readings and festivals in Jordan and other Arab countries. Abu-Lawi made his debut as a poet in 1988 with his poetry collection I Wish I Were a Stone in Your Hands. Since then his poems have appeared in local and Arab papers, magazines, literary online websites, and anthologies. His published poetry collections include: Clouds Paint my Biography (2008), I See Trees (2010), Talk Be Exalted (2013), and Before The Death of Horses (2016).

Salah Abu-Lawi’s poems are translated from the original Arabic into English by poet and translator Nizar Sartawi.




Tupelo

Salah Abu-Lawi wrote this poem during his visit to Tupelo, Mississippi, in the spring of 2011.

I

The singing birds in Tupelo never go to sleep
The singing birds guard our dreams in the dark, that we may guard them
when the master of rhetoric rises up
The singing birds may send their chirps here
as they please
for unlike our singing birds, they’re blessed with peace

Tupelo
Or should I say the heaven where God promised to send believers?
a city of dreams sleeping on the palm of water
The lakes within and around
are akin to the clouds of spring embroidering the gown of the skies
Black eyes there
and green and blue
capture the hearts of the pious
Fully-clothed women there are
and naked ones
and what the heart desires of mirth and singing
clusters hanging low
and other ones kissing the lips of clouds
swans, geese, ducks…
all species of birds
as God hath in the Holy Book spoken of paradise
people who grow up but never age
as though life were created for youth
Why, then
O God of the heavens and earth
have you made it so facile for others
and made our abode in hell till Doomsday?

Tupelo
I and a few strangers here are dumbfounded
People pass by as they go hurriedly to work
Like bees they pour into the arms of nature
surrender to their dreams
plant the vineyards of the day
for a little glass in the evening
on the balconies of friends
trickling with joy at the tunes of Elvis
or dancing
when wine unleashes their souls.
People here,
black, red and white –
just as their trees are united –
bear life together
Together they get over their painful memories
and death in an age that almost dispersed them in the dust
When you live in the heart of your enemy
you know how often the earth ascends like a heavenly steed
and alone in the sand you wait for prophets
When love triumphs
people triumph
for the enemy resides within us
so long as we dwell on our back steps

Tupelo
a witch’s green shawl
Tupelo
a blond drunken horse
a shade for those who have lost their shadow in the crowd
The singing birds in Tupelo never go to sleep.

II

She wanted to see me
and went on searching among the faces
hoping,
now that my face has disappeared,
I’d emerge bearing resemblance to my face
and my shadow
She sought refuge in silence and prayed
She wanted to see me
I was the only one far-off

I said:
“What should I call you?”
She said:
“I am the rain of eternity
the lightning of the beginning
the thunder of the end
the awakening of the violin at the dance of desires
I am the image of poetry
the part that has been said
and the part that words could not contain
“Perhaps I’ve gotten a little older
but as age increases
the opposite increases further, and so do memories”
I said:
“Let bygones be bygones”
and then I became conscious
as though I had come back from poetry in a flash
or risen from the well before I was perfected
then was taken unawares by a rainy moon on the beach of moments
I’ve never disbelieved in seagulls
to chant what comes to mind of my estrangement
I haven’t been a believer
to rid myself of the impurities of my veins
I’ve had no confidence
in my soul’s trustworthy sparrows
“Do you see me as her like?”
she asked
the waves of her smile borrowing the place
and my whirl growing bigger
I said:
“You don’t look like anything else
We will remain on a date
I am absent in time
and you are the substitute for features.”
“I don’t like substitutes,”
she said.
“I’ll spread my water forests for your eyes
till you’re through with your prayer.”
“It is the sea between you and me,”
I said.
“Come out of the showers of my clouds
Come out of my eyes
Come out of my ablution
Come out of my boyhood
so that wishes may inscribe me
as a passerby akin to a fable
like the tornado that struck your soul yesterday
I’ve come
though there is no settlement
for him whom whirlwinds breastfed with their sorrow
and so he rose above sorrows
I haven’t come as an invader
for I am the lover of my inspirers, the singing birds
I haven’t come as a displaced person
for the distant places of exile will suffice for my gasp of death
I haven’t come as a tourist
for I bear the sea in my lung
I haven’t come at all
Whenever despair tried to kill my steps
I called on more steps for assistance, and so he died
I’ll go back for a drop of light in my place of exile
to release the partridge of my questions
for the fields that you know have woken up
as the chant of a life
Is it the tears
or morning rain?”
She said:
“So I won’t see you?”
and she disappeared in the mortal question
like a star vanishing in clarity
like a moon vanishing behind the swarm of darkness
The singing birds in Tupelo never go to sleep.

III

I was all alone there
wrestling with the god of my emptiness
commanding him to prepare for me the shade of a sparrow
where I may hide my secret
Between me and myself there was a great distance
a memory
and a country
that I drag behind a spirit
I metaphorically call mine
that I may meet in my estrangement
I was all alone
disturbing the calm of the city with memories
birds were around me singing:
“too-too-to-too to-to-too- too-to-too-too to-too-too”
like an Arab who recites a lengthy classical poem
whenever he is possessed by his jinni
I was a broken bird there
but I am not
I bear my sorrow to Tupelo
as she walks rapidly like a sandgrouse towards water
not conscious of the hunter of memories
nor aware of how he suffers
Whenever thunder roared in the sky
I remembered my fear
and the water reproached me as it sewed a dress for my soul that I never put on
Black is the dream around you
Be its whiteness
I said:
“I love you, O water
but sand has calcified between the fingers of my memory
releasing lightning between me
and the fields of a morrow that I wait for expectantly”
I was all alone
nature around me was knocking on her trees
Was I born to a red woman
that I must die here?
Or am I not myself
The earth whispers to me:
“I don’t see that you are a stranger”
and I remember I saw the lake
a while ago along the side of the highway
The water of the lake looked like me
and so did the foreign trees
and the grass
as it flew from the fountain of my eye
upon every wandering
“I don’t see that you are a stranger”
“But my heart is a bird,”
I replied
The land didn’t have enough room for my face
nor was there enough room among the faces for a stranger
I was all alone,
and the bottle of wine divided me
between what I saw and what I believed
so I leaked out on the beach of wakefulness
as a thread of wine
confused between what is real within me
and what bears resemblance to it

Tupelo
the moonlit night of a poetess
Tupelo
the yellow echo of a song
a fairy who doesn’t like marble
The singing birds in Tupelo never go to sleep

*****

POEMS OF NIZAR SARTAWI

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