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Badr Shakir al-Sayyab: Crutch in Hell

[Image of Sayyab, from Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, ed. Majid Salih al-Samara'i] [Image of Sayyab, from Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, ed. Majid Salih al-Samara'i]

[This poem is purported to the be the last Sayyab composed during his life. We each translated it independently. Here, we present the two results, side by side. Between them and beyond them somewhere lies the beauty of the original.]

1. A Crutch in Hell

I continue to circle
Round the millstone of my pain
A blindfolded bull, like a stone, how foolish to think it would rise up!
While the people march onward to the mountain summits
I cannot march—Woe unto me!—on my feet.
And my bed is my prison, my coffin, my place of exile unto pain
And unto nothingness!
And I say: a day will come to me, after several months
Or several years of sickness,
Or several eternities!
Then I will march….I will march upon my feet.
A crutch in my right hand
One crutch? No, two crutches
Under two armpits, supporting
A body made of pain…consumed
Like a ruined encampment, washed by a flow of blood.
And I will march…I will march upon my feet!
If only the path to the grave
Dark, with the ravening worms and their thousand mouths
Stretched out before me to the farthest corners of the earth…like a river,
Or a dark valley, or a high mountain,
Then I would run to it on my head or my eyelashes or my back
And I would cut for myself a road to hell and flatten the black gates
And shout in their guardian’s face:
‘Why do you keep your door blocked?....
Let the devils of the fire
Take their vengeance on this tottering body
Take their vengeance on this naked wound
And let your eagles come to pick out my eyes and mangle my heart
For here my neighbor will not envy me
Nor will the harlot proclaim, as she passes by my house at midnight
‘Here is the cripple’s house, he has come to the point that he has neither food nor drink,
And tomorrow they will throw his two daughters and his wife into the street,
Along with his infant son, if the don’t pay the back rent they owe!’
Scatter me—shame on you!—in a thousand pieces
And open your gate, do not leave it barred before my misery,
And feed my body to the fire.

— translated by Terri DeYoung

2. One Crutch in Hell

I am still turning
Around the mill of my pain
Like a blindfolded bull, like the millstone—never resisting.
People pass by, on their way toward heights.
But I can no longer walk on my feet, damn them.
My bed is my prison, my coffin, my exile into pain
Into nothingness.
And I say: A day will come to me, months from now,
Or after years of wasting away,
Or eons,
And I will go. On my two feet I will go,
A crutch in my right hand.
One crutch? No—two
Beneath my arms, supporting
A body of aches, a body dying
An abandoned encampment, a ruin, covered by a flood of blood.
I go on, on my two feet I go on.
Even if the road leads to the grave,
And gloom, and hungry, thousand-mouthed worms
Stretch out before me to the furthest reaches of the world, in a river,
Or pitch-dark valley, or high mountain,
I will go there, either gladly, or riding on my own back
I will travel along the inferno of my path and push the black doors wide open
And I will roar in the face of the caretaker,
Why was the door shut?
Let the devils of Hell
Punish the obscene body
Let them punish the open wound
Let your eagles gouge eyes and devour the heart
Here, in this place, my neighbor does not wish me ill,
And the prostitute who passes by my house at midnight does not sing out,
“Here is the cripple’s house! They ran out of food and drink
And tomorrow they are going to throw his two daughters and wife out onto the street,
And his infant son too if they cannot pay the mountains of rent they owe!”
Throw me, scattered, uncomposed
Do not shut your door against my misery,
Open it, and feed my body to the fire!

— translated by Elliott Colla

[From Badr Shakir al-Sayyab: Hayatuh wa-shi‘ruh, ed. Yusuf ‘Ata al-Tarifi (Amman: al-Ahliyya li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawzi‘, 2012).

 

 

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