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Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab: The Poem and the Phoenix

[Image of a young Sayyab delivering poem, from shakwmakw.com] [Image of a young Sayyab delivering poem, from shakwmakw.com]

From the new room, my bier
calls on me to write a poem.
So I write
what’s in my blood, and I cross out
until the unruly idea gives in.
My new room
is spacious, more spacious than my grave.
If fatigue descends over
wakefulness, sleep is sweeter—
springing up even from eyes of stone,
even from the lonely fireplace
set up in the far corner.

Then the dry, dilapidated bier lifts up
its head and gazes at the walls,
the ceiling, the mirror, and the vials.
How dark the corners are,
as earth is to man
it wants to shatter him
with money, wine, women,
and lies on the heart and tongue
it wants to send him back
into the dim forest.
The surface of the mirror reveals a void
it bore forth a woman
coral-lipped
lit up like twilight by a pair of eyes
and bare breasts.
Like this mirror,
the land will become lifeless
and on dark nights,
in that silence filled
only with howling winds,
God will fear the dead
pull out death and sleep inside it,
like a blanket on a winter night.

Such is the poet when he writes a poem
he doesn’t think it will beat eternally.
He will destroy what he built, smash
its stones, then grow weary of silence and calm.
When a new idea comes along,
he pulls it out like a blanket covering eyes
so they cannot see. If he wants,
let him destroy the past, for things only rise
over their charred ashes
scattered on the horizon….

And so the poem is born.

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