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With the Mist So Dense on the Bridge

ISSUE:  Summer 2008

With the mist so dense on the bridge, he said to me,
“Is anything known to the contrary?”
I said, “At dawn, things will be clear.”

He said, “There is no time more obscure than dawn.
Let your imagination succumb
to the river.
In the blue dawn,
in the prison yard or near the pine yard,
a young man is executed, along with his hopes for victory.

In the blue dawn, the smell of bread
forms a map of a life where summer is more like a spring.
In the blue dawn, dreamers wake gently
and merrily walk in the waters of their dream.”

Where is dawn taking us?
Dawn is a bridge; where does it take us?

My friend said to me,
“I do not want a place to be buried in.
I want a place to live in and curse, if I wish.”

Place passes like a gesture between us;
“What is ‘place’?” I asked.

“Senses discovering a footprint of intuition,” he sighed.
“Oh, for that narrow street
which carried me in the vast evening
to her house on the outskirts of solitude.

Do you still keep my heart by memory
and forget the smoke of the city?”

“Do not bet on reality,” I told him.
“You will find nothing alive like its own image awaiting you.
Time tames even mountains, raising them higher
and casting them lower than you can see.
But where is the bridge taking us?”

He asked, “Is the road to the bridge long?”

I asked, “Is the mist dense at the steps of dawn?”

“For how many years were you like me?
For how long have you been me?”

I said, “I do not remember.”

He said, “I do not remember that I remembered
anything but the road.”

And he sang:
On the bridge in another land,
the saxophone announces the end of winter.
On the bridge, strangers confess their mistakes,
when no one joins them
in the song.

I said to him, “For how many years
have we urged the dove to fly
to the lotus tree in the seventh heaven?
Fly under our window, O dove: fly and fly!”

So he said, “It is as if I had lost my emotions . . .
Soon, we will imitate our voices as children,
lisping our Ss and Ls.
Sleeping like mating doves
on the vine that clothes the house.
Soon, life will appear to us spontaneously.

The mountains remain as they are beyond their image in my mind.
If memory does not fail me,
the ancient sky remains as its image in my mind, clear of hue and perception.
The radiant pure air remains as it is awaiting me.”

I said, “My friend,
the long road has rid me of my body.
I do not feel its clay. I do not feel its states.
Whenever I travel, I fly.
My steps are my visions,
my ‘I’ beckons from afar.”

“If this path of yours is long,
there is work for me with legends.”

Divine hands trained us to dig our names
into the indices of a willow tree;
we were neither clear nor obscure.

But our style in crossing streets from one time to another provoked speculation:
Who are these who, when they see a palm tree,
stand silent and prostrate themselves on its shadow?
Who, when they laugh, disturb others?

“On the bridge in another land,” he said to me,
“Strangers are known by the disconnected way they look in water,
by their introversion and their hesitant walk.
Natives proceed with direct steps toward a perspective goal
a stranger walks around, bewildered.”

He said to me, “Every bridge is a meeting point.
On the bridge I enter into what is outside of me,
And surrender my heart to a bee or a swallow.”

I said, “Not entirely.
On the bridge I walk to what is inside of me.
I train myself to be alert.
Every bridge is cracked—you are not you as you were a while before.
And beings are not memories.”

I am two in one,
or I am one split in two.
O bridge, bridge!
Which of the two fragments is me?

We have been walking on the bridge for twenty years,
we have been walking these twenty meters, there and back!
And I said, “There is not much left.”
And he said, “There is not much left.”
And we said together and separately, as well dreaming:

I shall walk lightly, steps on the wind—
a bow which crushes the land of the violin.
I will hear the pulse of my blood in pebbles,
and the veins of my place.

I shall rest my head on the carob tree stump—
it is my mother, even if she disowns me.
I shall doze a little, and two small birds shall carry me,
higher and higher, to a star that deported me.

My spirit shall wake to a former pain,
which comes like a letter from a balcony of memory.
I shall cry out, “I am still alive, because
I feel the arrow piercing my side.”

I shall look to the right, toward the jasmine;
it was there that I learned the early songs of the body.
I shall look to the left, toward the sea
where I learned to fish for foam.

I shall lie like an adolescent.
This milk on my trousers is the dregs
of a dream which provoked me and is done.

I shall deny that I am copying
the pre-Islamic poet’s siesta
between the eyes of the wild deer.

I shall drink a handful from the garden tap;
I shall get thirsty like water desiring itself.
I shall ask the first to cross my path,
“Have you seen a ghost like me,
searching for his yesterday?”

I shall carry my house on my shoulder
and walk like a slow tortoise.
I shall hunt an eagle with a broom, and ask,
“Where is the mistake?”

I shall search in mythology and archaeology
and in every -ology for my old name.
One of the goddesses of Canaan shall favor me,
then swear with a flash of lightning,
“This is my orphan son.”

I shall praise a woman who gives birth to a child
in the pipes, knowing it is of no resemblance to her.
I shall weep for a man who died when he awoke.

I shall take a line of al-Ma‘arri, and adjust it:
My body is a scrap of dust,
O tailor of being, stitch me!
I shall write:
O creator of death, leave me alone!

I shall wake the dead people of mine; we are equals.
Sleepers, are you like us,
still dreaming of the Day of Judgment?
I shall collect the ghazals the wind scattered
in Cordoba, and complete The Ring of the Dove.

I shall select from my intimate memories
a description of what is suitable:
the scent of crumpled bedsheets
after intercourse,
like the scent of grass after rain.
I shall see how the rock face grows green.

March roses will burn me in the land where I was first born.
Pomegranate blossoms will conceive me,
and I will be born from them for the last time.

I shall depart from yesterday
when I return to its inheritance: memory.
I shall approach tomorrow when I chase a cunning lark.
I shall know that I am late for my appointment.

I shall know that my tomorrow has just passed
as clouds do, without waiting.
And I shall know that the sky will soon rain on me,
and that I
am crossing the bridge.

Are we now treading the land of the tale?
It may not be as we imagine—
“It is neither butter nor honey.”
The sky is ashen,
dawn is still a septic blue.

What is “time” now?
A bridge that is long and short.
A dawn made long and cunning, as well.
What is “time” now?

“The old land dozes behind the touristic castles,
time emigrates in the star
that burned the emotional horseman.
You who sleep on needles of memory,
do you not feel the voice
of earthquakes in the gazelle’s hoof?”

I said to him, “Has fever struck you?”

His nightmare continued:
“O you who sleep, do you hear
the whisper of the Resurrection in a grain of sand?”

I said to him, “Are you speaking to me
or to yourself?”

“I reached the end of the dream . . .
I saw myself as an old man there,
and I saw my heart chasing my dog there—
it was barking.
I saw my bedroom laughing:
Are you still alive?

Come let me take from you the air,
and your wooden stick,
inlaid with Moroccan mother-of-pearl!
How should I bring back the beginning, friend?
Who am I?
Who am I without a dream and a woman’s company?”

I said, “We visit what remains of life.
Life as it is, let us train ourselves to love the things
we had, to love things that are not ours
and ours.

If we look at them together from above,
like snow falling on the mountains,
the mountains may be as they were;
and the fields as they were;
and life, intuitive and communal.”

“Are we now entering the land of the tale, my friend?
I do not want a place to be buried in.
I want a place to live in, and to curse, if I wish.”
And he stared at the bridge.

This is the gate of truth:
we can neither enter nor leave.

Nothing is known from its contrary.
The passageways are closed
and the sky is ashen-faced and narrow.

The hand of dawn pulls up the fatigue trousers
of the female officer,
higher and higher.

We have been on the bridge twenty years;
we have eaten tinned food for twenty years.
We have dressed in and out of season,
listened to new songs, excellently made,
from the barracks.

Our children have married exiled princesses
who changed their names.

We left our destinies to those
who love losses in the movies.
We read our tracks in the sand.
We were neither obscure nor clear,
like the yawning picture of the dawn.

I said, “Does your wound still torment you, friend?”

He said, “I feel nothing.
My thought has turned my body
into a register of proofs.
Nothing will prove that I am I
except for an open death on the bridge.

I gaze at a rose in the distance
and the charcoal catches fire.
I gaze at my birthplace, farther out,
and the grave expands.”

I said, “Gently, do not die now.
Life is possible on the bridge.
The metaphor is wide enough:
it is an isthmus between this world and the next,
between exile and a neighboring land.”

He said to me, while the hawks hovered above us,
“Take my name as companion,
tell it about me, and you live
until the bridge brings you back to life tomorrow.
Do not say, ‘He lived or died aimlessly marginalized.’
Say, ‘He looked down on himself from above
and saw himself clothed in a tree.’”
And he was happy with that greeting.

If this road is long
there is work for me in mythology;

I was alone on the bridge on that day
after the Messiah withdrew to
a hill in the suburbs of Jericho, before the Resurrection.
I walk, and I cannot go in or out.
I turn like a sunflower.

At night, I am awakened
by the voice of the soldier on night watch
as she sings to her lover:

Promise me nothing,
do not send me a rose from Jericho!

—Translated by Mohammad Shaheen and Amro Naddy


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