Poems by Ashur Etwebi (Libya, 1952)
Ashur Etwebi was born in 1952, in Tripoli, Libya. He is a poet, translator and physician. He has published nine books of poetry, seven books of translation and one novel. A selection of his works was translated by Brenda Hillman and Dialla Haidar and published in the USA, 2011.
He organized two international poetry festivals in Libya: The First Tripoli International Poetry Festival in 2012, and Poems and Cities Poetry Festival in 2014, which traveled the Great Sahara and the Nafusa Mountain.
In 2012, he established the Arknu Society for Literature and Arts and Arknu Publishing House. He also organized three international musical events in Tripoli.
After the Islamist militias burnt down his house, he took refuge in Norway.
On a silent city a dream engraves
sadness and particles of tamed sapphire.
Whatever pours has not stopped,
and is running toward its reservoir,
to the circle of madness and depravity.
Turn your face toward the sea
and lie on the water.
The secret that has defeated you is no longer secret,
and the secret that had surrendered is now stubborn.
How do you measure sadness now?
And how do you measure your nights?
Listen carefully to the clarinet
as the wilderness narrows,
to offspring as time steals them away,
to the weeping of the wailers and the madness of the tribe
as the ghoul of time
blows into the wind
the scent of the living body,
as it slides through the cracks of dreams
the foam of comfort,
and as it heaps what we see
onto the disk of the sun
so that no vision melts on the coast,
and no steps ever reach home.
No Room On The Horizon
He sat on the chair, the wall behind him,
and from the window a defeated desert appeared.
Why is the light murky tonight?
Why has the spider gone home early,
sweat pouring on its legs?
And why is there in this book a history with the taste of sin.
the breath of a frightened man is short,
the heart of a frightened man is narrow.
but the cursed sands
do not die.
They enter the city on the wind’s shoulders
and give whistling its eternal desolation.
You passed on this road, Aurlieus.
Turn now to the willow; your shadow below it,
does not know you, and will not follow.
The bird that wet its wings with the sea watches you
as you carry desolation on your shoulders
and as your feet sink into contemptible sand.
You said: How far the sky seems today!
The enemies’ ships approach,
sails and swords, incense burners smoking.
Sailors’ curse words and the sweat of human bodies
rise, and an old grease floats on the water.
To your right, the valley water runs,
and in your heart music pours.
You had hidden it like an Egyptian treasure.
The sun lowers its braids
on a surrendered plain,
and the gravel suffers pangs of fear.
May the seer feel the quaking of the rhythm?
May the truffle await the tremble of lightning?
Don’t ask. A rising tide spreads before you.
And behind you a dam.
The horses were on the way, swords raised.
Time was yellow,
and the judges beside the dam beat at drums.
And the poets, the little physicians, carried the corpse.
It is only madness shattering in the voices of the mourners.
date palms being struck by the wind.
a herd of people led by a blind man.
The travelers’ feet follow the past,
yellow like the leaves that fall on the road,
The voices caught between the wind and the setting sun
foam with the color of morning coffee.
Behind the hill
and among the whines of the travelers
lay the cold shadows of sadness,
pillars of stone, and the ash of fragile bodies.
No use sifting through the dust.
No use stabbing the air.
no use in standing,
The valley’s water has returned to somewhere
you to do not know,
and the wolves approach hungry.
On the horizon there is no room
The Place Will Fit Everything
The sound of the wind stretches.
The jazz music withholds some of its ruckus.
Hands move something in the dark.
I say: an old romanticism...
No matter, the place will fit everything.
Vision descends upon flaccid pathways
and rides them on cheap metal.
Dried out trees, and others take their water
from the drowned sand by force.
I say: a passing depression.
No matter, the place will fit everything.
During the day the sun comes to the mountain,
places its hand upon it,
its cold hand of lovers,
strikes stone with stone.
Mountain grasses dance behind the stone.
The sun does not see them.
Only the moon follows it all the way beyond the bend
and the guardian stones watch from afar.
I say: a passing coincident.
No matter: the place will fit everything.
Because the African woman sang and wept,
darkness retreats trembling.
Her voice burns bit by bit
the heart’s core.
From a spot in the dark
People are classes.
The upper is featureless,
the middle featureless,
the lower featureless.
Nonetheless they differ.
It’s beautiful to breathe this deeply.
It’s beautiful to say what I want.
It’s beautiful that you feel me from a distance.
It’s beautiful to love without stopping.
I bring a soul close to me
and distance myself from the commandments
that have accompanied me since the first cell split.
Before the blaze of the city that ....... me
rise, cold.... its essence scandalized.
I gather my conscience around me
and with a pronounced slowness rearrange my dreams.
Here our things scattered,
our laughs were defeated.
Here we were stunned by the colors of the seasons,
and their meekness betrayed us.
two lines of blood
on the dirt,
and an aged corpse
under the coats
of the midget
Desire Always Prevails
On the mountain
the pine forest bends,
and the world is an almond about to break out of its shell.
Behind the valleys
the moon disappears.
The intimate moment has its distinct calm,
has its distinct motion.
Fire has its shivers,
He knows that it catches the scent of pine,
that it scatters the alphabet of tender grasses.
It spreads its feminine odor to foxes and flowers.
It braces its sighs to its chest
then releases its sobs unto sadness.
He knows that dew is cool,
that the wind is the history of a labyrinth,
that words are small and wounded,
that the distance between weeping and the moon
is a silent lip.
(Translated by: Khaled Mattawa)
Standing straight with a little hat
How describe a depressing morning?
Sea to the right, desert to the left
What voices does it carry?
The bullets of blind fighters—
Is it okay to take a coffee first?
So the morning is, indeed, depressing.
I read some of Lorca’s poems this morning
Have you checked out Al-Harith Ibn Helliza?
I keep that for when I’m in need
From my father I inherited nothing but agony, which can be cleverly hidden
What was your father’s job?
He was a cook or a cook’s assistant.
He deserved that and you deserve that.
Most, almost all of my life has slipped away
Is that your cane you brought?
What do I have to do with any of it?
You’ll knock on many mute doors and no one will hear your steps.
But for reading Lorca,
I would have forgotten her,
that little tortoise I never named!
I found her in the middle of the road
near the bad turn in Wadi Kaam valley.
Maybe she escaped through the door the militia busted
or was crushed under their ATVs
or she starved beneath the fig tree.
That tree, that slender tree, no one planted it
close to the house and closer to the garbage bag
my wife set out, tightly wrapped, every morning.
Maybe the tree sensed we were internal refugees,
it sensed our bleakness, the ache at our core.
I have yet to see any bird in its branches
no caravans of ants ascending
It’s leaves neither wither nor drop.
I imagine being a tree.
My chest is an abandoned field of hot chilies
riffled by winds of depression and unease
persistent and vehement as revolutionaries.
On the Arabic TV news:
I accidentally glimpse someone’s breast trembling inside an expensive shirt.
The Sky Arabic TV news forecasts
a rain of bearded ISIS.
On the BBC world TV news:
Huti sticks and daggers stained with loneliness.
During the commercial break on LBC TV,
a leg in the sky and a leg in the sea.
Hot afternoon, gazing at a large marble tablet
A road curls behind the hell like a wet pubic hair.
A short road smeared with cows’ dung.
The river seems to pause at the foot of the woman sleeping.
The vulture nearly stole the loaf of bread from the naked
boy and naked girl under the tree.
The rock’s shadow is devoured by a blue butterfly.
What is this magnificent while breaching into the fighter’s inferno?
And clouds rise over clouds rising from horses’ hooves.
Through an open window comes the rattle of eucalyptus leaves
For a second, I thought the cowboy waved his hat.
a huge iron square—
The two wrestlers in black and white really are two wrestlers.
Chest to chest
torso to torso.
Sea rock flowers
float up like words from a dead mouth.
The boys gripped their sticks
The forest passed them by all night.
A captain’s jacket is unique,
its buttons falling and rising
like a boat sailing north.
Is it the wind
that shredded my thoughts?
Heavy as the Kalashnikov
Fear: the smell of a T-shirt
Deep sleep is a boy
Beyond the furthest hell
houses go up in flames
and the refugees refuse to weep.
(Translated by Forrest Gander and the author)
Published on April 28th, 2016