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AL-KHAL, Jusuf

Old Age

We wipe the chill wave from our faces

And tell ourselves the story of spring:

How the breeze smiles,

The birds sing,

The trees dance;

How the seed stretches its roots in the soil

And bears fruit.

We tell ourselves the story of autumn,

When the shadows are bowed

And evening lengthens,

Then suddenly a star appears,

Or a moon shines,

And when the fence falls,

The fields stretch out naked,

As far as the eye can see.

We tell ourselves the story of summer,

Which comes to us on the wings

Of a warm melody,

Or the leap of joyous swallow,

while we gather the crop,

Or recall the halt of a cloud,

Here and there in the distance.

We wipe the chill wave from our faces

And tell ourselves the seasons' story.

But the wave sinks deep in our veins and vanishes.

We think it vanishes,

Yet, suddenly, it appears-

Here, in a hair turned white,

There, in a lip turned dry.

The Voyage

At daybreak we descend to our sheltered harbors

And the ships with their sails unfurled depart. we call out: O beloved sea,

Close to us as these eyelids to our eyes !

We come alone, choosing to venture forth,

While our comrades, behind those mountains, choose to slumber on.

Our shepherds have told us

O islands in love with danger

And hanting sloth and caution;

Of islands wrestling with fate,

Planting, with tooth and nail,

cities in the desert,

And letters of light encoding histories

To fill men's eyes eith wonder.

Of them, and their magic color, the great dream while young.

Then we embark on the ships,

Laden with glass and pinewood,

With silk and fruit and wines,

We call out: O ships !

O upward-bearing ladder !

Bringing us precious treasure

and bearing out finery in return !

O ships !

We have come to you alone .

Our comrades, there in the desert, chose to remain

At the mercy of heat and croaking boredom.

While we choose to voyage.

Our mountain shepherds have told us

Of islands drenched in clouds, in lavender and rain,

Of islands that know no boredom.

Of them, and their magic color, the great dream while young.

Before we set sail we slaughter sheep,

One for Astarte, one for Adonis

And one for baal.

Them from the seabed

We haul in the iron anchor

And begin our voyage.

Halleluja !

Halleluja !

An instant, and there vanish from our sight

The mountains,

The shepherd meadows,

The land brimming over with flowers.

Halleluja !

Halleluja !

Halleluja !

We begin our voyage

And the tale of struggle, of triumph and homecoming.

The Roots

In the summertime the roots ask about

their fate, and the river aswers not.

Roots so glorious,1 and yet the river answers not:

it lies choked in the mountain springs or

usurped by the clay in the noonday heat.

Who then shall answer these roots about

their fate? Who shall embrace and protect them in the autumntime,

who shall restrain from them the harshness of winter, I wonder?

The leaves that whimper are a body

and the secret is in the roots.

And in the roots is our yesterday,

and in the roots is our tomorrow:

here the fruits are dates and oranges, and there,

grapes that the cupbearer presses into wine;

and where the locusts abound there is no fruit, just pebbles.

In vain do we scream like the winds, the hot winds

that come from their origin and just as hot depart. 4

And we, stranger-friend, cultivate and restore the moist earth.

The soil is to us a home-womb and a shroud,

and in the earth the roots wither as they ascend,

and the earth is then a birthplace, a harvest.

Behold Nineveh!

I once made out in the engravings

the face of my friend. I touched it with the palm of my hand

saying: "here the echo is prolonged.

And the notion that endures is a droplet,

a droplet that the soil drinks,

that the torrents embrace, ceaseless.

What was does not become,

the owl does not screech in its dwelling

and the raven does not hover around it.

Every time is eternal,

and every journey is a return".

And wherever I turned were etchings

the springs in the mountains choke it or

the clay usurps it in the midday heat.