August 5, 2011

Refinement by Reading your Body

The day the conversation ended
Between your breasts awash in water
And the tribes that battled over water,
That day ended our Golden Age
And began the Age of Decay.
The rainclouds went on strike and said no rain
For the next five hundred years
The spring birds went on strike and stopped all flying
And the ears of grain abstained from procreation
And the fertile crescent moon took on the shape
Of a bottle full of crude oil.

The day they exiled me from the tribe
For leaving a poem and a rose
At the doorflap of your tent,
That day ended our Golden Age
And began the Age of Decay
An age that knew its grammar and syntax
But not a thing of womanhood,
The generations of degeneration
And the erasure of all women's names
From the memory of the nation.

Oh darling
What kind of nation is this,
Policing love like a dirty cop,
Considering the rose
A conspiracy against the regime,
Considering the poem
A manifesto of the underground?
What kind of nation is this
In the form of a yellow locust
Crawling out on its gut from the ocean to the Gulf
From the Gulf to the ocean,
Talking like a holy man all day
And woozy over a woman's navel all night?

What kind of nation is this?
Deleting love's material from curricula.
Deleting poetry,
And women's eyes.
What kind of nation is this?
Going to war with every raincloud,
Opening a classified file for every breast
And filing a police report for every rose.

Oh darling
What are we to do in this nation?
This nation that dare not see its body in the mirror
For fear of craving it?
That dare not hear a woman's voice on the phone
For fear of being too impure to pray?
What are we to do in this nation
That knows all there is to know
Of the October revolution,
Of the Zanj slaves who rose against their Caliph master
Of the Karmathians who stood against the Caliph's armies
And still keeps talking down to women like some Sheikh?
What are we to do in this nation
Between the works of Imam Ash-Shafi'i... and the works of Lenin
Between Qur'anic exegeses.... and Playboy magazines
Between Mu'tazilism... and the music of The Beatles?

O darling dumbfounder, you
Who amaze me like a child's toy,
I feel civilized
For loving you.
I call my poems historical
Because they have been your contemporaries.
All time before your eyes had yet to be,
All time after them went to pieces.
Do not ask me why I'm with you.
I just want an escape from being backwater,
To re-enter the time of water,
I want to defect from the Republic of Thirst,
To leave my backward desert life,
To sit beneath the trees
And bathe in springwater
And learn the names of the flowers.

I want you to teach me to read and write
For writing on your body is the ABC
Of entry into civilization.
Your body is not counterculture.
No, it is culture incarnate.
Whoever does not read the notebooks of your body
Will spend his life illiterate.

--- Nizar Qabbani
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

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