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Poems by Abdellatif Laâbi

Aug 7, 2021 | Front And Center, Poetry | 0 comments

Translated from the French by Patrick Williamson

I could have
lived another life
the opposite of the one I lived
Be born
in another time
as distant as possible
Be borne
by a non-human mammal
aquatic for example
from a seed buried in the ground
and grow a tree
any tree at all
Be ejected
by a volcano
to cool down, solidify
and become, like, a rock!

I could have
lived only
the passionate seasons of life
the age of the first words
of regular sorrows and joys
The burning, wild and refined months
of mad love
The time of dreams
just as crazy
when we reach for the moon
without a second thought
when we tell ourselves
that the bad days will end
the next day for sure

I could have
– before it was too late –
beautiful, dark
smelling good my natural odors
superbly romantic
sharp as a tack
fit for the permanent service
of the impossible

I could have
kept my mouth shut
shut up for good
to spare my fellow men
such a lament
Arm myself with the silence
of those who know of the sea
only the enemy waves
and graveyard of the deep
Those who in the icy mud
wash their faces
with the blood of barbed wire
Those that everything accuses and condemns:
name, colour
language, country
the misplaced pride of men
the indecent fertility of women
Those who speak to us eloquently
through simple gestures
or snapshots
taken without their knowledge
dead or alive

I could have
not been there this morning
peering into the night
in the light of day
my little tragedy
with the immeasurable tragedy
of the world
scratching, scratching at paper
instead of blowing, blowing
into the gigantic horn of anger
until my lungs burst

I could have
taken refuge in a cave
sealed the entrance
To practice
To put an end
to the clamor of images
and deliver my memory
to the great repairer
that is oblivion

I could have
not existed
neither before
nor after
Be only dormancy
and nothingness
an improbable particle
forever immature
È finita la commedia!



Not a word about Aleppo
You can’t
Do we say anything
when we get
shot between the eyes
or stabbed
in the heart?
At the most we asphyxiate
a few seconds
before yielding to nothingness
and letting out a tear
without realizing
its crushing weight

Not a word about Aleppo
You can’t
You’re just a spectator
trapped in this sordid brothel
language has become
You going to continue to gargle with it?
I’m telling you
not a word about Aleppo
You can’t


Aylan Of Syria

I can’t forgive myself
for not writing anything
when I had to
about little Aylan
Like the whole world
I saw the photo taken
by Nilufer Demir

The child
slightly chubby
lying on the sand
of this Bodrum beach
His perfectly round head
and golden hair
the barber recently cleaned up
He sleeps
fully dressed
his tennis shoes, blue shorts and red T-shirt
look new
and they dried well
He lies
on his right side
his head turned not towards the sun-rise
but towards the setting sun
He seems to be meditating on the strange game
the sea has played with him
After carrying him on its back
and bouncing him on its lap
it, without warning,
threw him brutally into the water
Did it not know
that a three-year-old child
can’t swim yet?

I didn’t write anything
when I had to
about Aylan
I confess that until today
this failure
has dogged me
as if I were Cain
and the eye of Abel
this photo of a child of breathtaking beauty
lying on the sand
waiting for a hand to reach out
and lift him up
so that he can run around
on the beach of another life
in the garden of another world
so that he can jump
on the knees and back
of another sea
that does not play ugly games

Aylan has grown up
since then
He’s finishing kindergarten
this year


I Testify

I testify that there is no Human being
but He whose heart trembles with love
for all his brothers in humanity
He who yearns
more for them than for himself
freedom, peace, dignity
He who considers that Life
is even more sacred
than his beliefs and deities
I testify that there is no Human being
than He who fights relentlessly against Hate
within and around him
He who once he opens his eyes in the morning
asks himself the question :
What am I going to do today so I don’t lose
my quality and pride
in being a man?


Three Glorious Days

Yes, we do
we need
to regain our taste for life
to regain our appetite
an appetite for the future
But then
let us not be too greedy
Let’s ask for three days
just three days
when the bitter reality agrees
to submit to the dream
to its beneficent power
Three days
when, it goes without saying,
the guns will fall silent
and fighters of all factions
will go on leave
Three days
when all the banished
the exiled, the displaced, the wandering
will return to their homes
and enjoy a well-deserved truce

Three days
of universal peace
where we will spend half the time
revelling in the silence
before the pain and anguish
of creation
and the other half
resting as well
with the greatest care
this or that beauty
which in our present blindness
we are unable to discern
Three days
or three glorious days
that will help us later on
to preserve in us
the taste for life
to regain our appetite
an appetite for the future


Abdellatif Laâbi is a Moroccan poet, novelist and translator. Born in 1942 in Fez, he studied French literature at the University of Rabat. In 1966 founded the literary magazine Souffles, which quickly became a point meeting place of numerous intellectuals and a place of criticism of the dictatorial regime of Hassan II. In 1972, he was arrested, tortured and imprisoned, accused of having fomented a plot against the regime. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1980 he was released, few years later he left Morocco and moved to France. He has received numerous awards and honors both in France and abroad, including the Gongourt Prize for poetry in 2009 and the Grand Prix de la francophonie in 2011.

Patrick Williamson is an English poet and translator. Most recent poetry collections: Traversi (English-Italian, Samuele Editore, 2018), Beneficato (SE, 2015), Gifted (Corrupt Press, 2014), Nel Santuario (SE, 2013; Menzione speciale della Giuria in the XV Concorso Guido Gozzano, 2014). Editor and translator of The Parley Tree, Poets from French-speaking Africa and the Arab World (Arc Publications, 2012) and translator notably of Max Alhau (France), Tahar Bekri (Tunisia), Gilles Cyr (Quebec), as well as Italian poets Guido Cupani and Erri de Luca. Recent translations in Transference, Metamorphoses, The Tupelo Quarterly, and poems in The Black Bough, The Fortnightly Review notably. Longstanding collaborator with artists’ book publisher Transignum, member of the editorial committee of La Traductière, and founding member of transnational literary agency Linguafranca.


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