Seat of a passenger who left the bus

WADIH SAADEH’S LANDMARK POEM IN ROBIN MOGER’S TRANSLATION

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Wadih Saadeh selling his poems on Hamra Street in Beirut, circa 1968. Source: al-ghorba12.blogspot

Farewell God I walk looking at my feet off to the cafe to meet my friends

Farewell I grow old the cafe in the square I mount two steps and sit

Heard Carmena Burana and went now the player sings alone

by the closed window

Light rain against the pane light rain against the port across the way

Farewell Four o’clock I have a date with my friends

I mount two steps and sit

We laugh opening mouth on mouth, pinked, coming out of the fridge

out of the Eskimos with the bears of the Eskimos with dog-drawn sleds with goatskins

mouth on mouth like lovers

marrying the divine laughter, unintelligible words, the wings the angels wore to fly

marrying five centimetres of air

in which our mouths swim new angels pilots tumbling down with countermeasures

ragged spirit leaves pieces of ghosts gods left on stairs

We talk drawing from our mouths the needle of words the threads from our veins woven to a size that barely fits us

and we go out on the street cheered that we talked and threw oranges from the windows and heard the trembling silence of the alleys

that we fought with the cafe owner fought with the driver of the truck fought

with God and went out

Charles with blonde beard like a prickly pear trousers cut wide enough to be worn with other people he never found

Abbas with a head cast and set in prison camps

Mary with her body rolled down from snowy mountains and about to melt

Abdo with his new rooms fleeing old Himeida so he can masturbate freely

Aql with his lost love with Isadora with his back pain with the rocket propelled grenade that dropped in front of him

Laughing laughing laughing

We lift our hands into the void We lower them to the earth We return them to our pockets

We pour water over ourselves that we might have the benefit of our bodies

rugs beneath the winter soft fur that speaks to passers-by lorries

seeping out of crotches

and together we cry: The divine bus has arrived. Our suitcases are come

Cases Cases Cases our suitcases lost among them so let’s step into the cafe

seat our bodies’ fur at the table with us seat our beards

our battles our masturbations our day’s profit from selling counterfeit weight of imaginings

White kingdoms singing at the windows

Eternity in the passage Eternity by a thread

And we move the chair back a little so the breeze may pass

Farewell

Farewell God

by the breeze that passes between us By the water You tipped over me Farewell and Your eyes that watch me

from behind the door Your blue mouth Your glasses from Al Hakim Optician’s

and Your hands that tell me: This is the way

Farewell, by Your beautiful wrists Your watch that tells an unknown time Four o’clock now Farewell

Chabtin. December 6, 1962. My father, a charred skeleton clasping his knees and a couch

issuing smoke.

Moonbeams through the skylight.

On the table a fish untouched an empty bottle of arak an almond leaf before the door.

I weighed 40 kilos with the page on which I wrote my poetry.

40 kilos with your smile. With your glance. With your hand on my shoulder

With your fish on the table. With your charred flesh.

40 kilos with your smoke

The stallion of heaven sets out a bead of sweat upon his brow.

Sunboat sails to Laranca. Walks over the sea by the fish. Sunboat. Sailing

wooden sun

bid farewell by a hand whose thumb moves slightly then settles back in place.

We shift in our seats. We pass our fingers over our hair. We hit time on the head in front of us on the wall.

In open-chested shirts. We look at one another and smile.

We look at the passers-by who look like us.

Sitting amid cigarette smoke. Sitting or standing or passing by. Eating the gravel from the street. Eating

the balconies from in front of the cars. From in front of the cart of expectations which stopped by us.

Holding aloft the head of love and crying.

Smashed arteries. Long guts of ground cast down by the roadsides.

Holding coasts. Towers. Bike parts. Hulls. Hands and legs and chests in shirts

and your foot, Mother, which measures 20 centimetres

your shoe my father’s brother made for you in 1957 and which you still wear now

your long nails, as you wait for Wadie’s smile to ask: Will you clip them for me?

Your knees creeping over thorn and stone towards a saint’s shrine

that my father may give up drink.

Your only dress, as though stuck to your body. Flabby body from which I emerged one day bringing

little eyes and fingers scarce able to bear the breeze.

Stretching my hand out under the raindrops to speeding cars,

to Paris hitchhiking,

I persuade the owner in broken French

Une bouteille d’Arak extra

in return for breakfast.

Sleeping in bus stops in January snows.

Sleeping in the old people’s home. With a hundred and fifty old people who cough all night

and take the minutes away with them to the toilets.

On the Seine. Leaves on the benches.

On the road with a big suitcase. Tossing their contents piece by piece and reading on the tree trunks

Fishing is forbidden

In Hendaye. Empty-handed at last on the Spanish border

twenty pesetas short of Madrid.

Farewell

The couch by the door. The bottle on the table. God in heaven. My father in the grave. The snow on the mountain

Time passed out in the street. Life sitting with its friend behind the rock. A song reaching me from afar.

We walk carrying our bodies wrapped in ancient dressings made of ribs, wrapped in stolen veins

in soft skins that have survived wars.

We place body in front of body and stare at the walls.

Hey, Louis: another glass!

Sargon will write a hundred poems tonight. Jad will write a whole novel on the Lebanese war and emigrate

tomorrow morning. To Melbourne.

A glass, Louis!

The mind will turn soon to a sweet cat. The blind shall see. Eternity hang out her breasts and say,

Take! God

shall at last present His lips. This planet shall join our private thievings.

I shall be a king, Louis. Give me a glass.

My sign is Cancer. When I wake

I find myself back in the world and glance for a moment at my crotch.

I comb my hair and lose about ten hairs.

My sign is Cancer. Sign without hair. With little hands that can just about

crawl over the ground. With two semi-visible eyes serving their conscription on the rocks

I preserve the sight of a ship departing, of the shells of drowned smiles,

of the eyes of the blind forgotten on the sand.

I preserve impoverished nights to which the wind comes by chance.

But Louis you do not understand all this.

Only, tell me: Why do you not let my friend rest his tired feet on your cafe’s window pane, when shortly he’ll be walking his whole life long?

Hear me, mother Mary. Hear me, Frankish mother. I do not love Louis.

Elias is my friend. Shaiya is my friend. But I do not love Louis.

Rain falls against the pane.

Flower pots outside. A couch that has got wet, I think.

On the seat a small lump I think may be a cat.

Standing in a small street. Stretching my hand to the passers-by.

You know, Jad, we lacked the quarter lira to reach Bourj Square.

Stretched out in Hamra Street, in front of the Faculty of Arts, by the Sudanese pistachio peddlar, I sell The Evening Has No Brothers

And after that, the labs in Australia. Rising at four in the morning

and waiting for the bus and standing nine months at a machine in a Holden factory to save for a return ticket to Beirut.

Then 1975,

a bag I walk with from village to village selling first-aid for the elderly.

Get up, let’s look for another café.

Downtown, a beautiful stone building. It has chairs overlooking the sea.

We sit

and lay two fingers on the bar.

Farewell I grow old, I have

weak ribs which once dreamed of gymnastics, I have

a head with a full complement of dips and hollows,

two silent hands I keep company through the day and then we shake and go to sleep

What may an idler do with these over the course of forty years?

Farewell

The moon in the water. A man on the road. And a speeding truck.

We walk shoulder to shoulder, colliding with blind breaths

Running running running carrying

the cases, the women and children, carrying the tables and chairs, the flowerpots, and running, racing

on thin feet, on broken branches. And what’s the urgency? An unremarkable happenstance: life

Farewell. The window before me looks out on the port, it has been closed since yesterday

The rain is light and beautiful. The couch outside. Eternity in the passage.

My hand upon the table

My mother’s foot measures 20 centimetres

Farewell