Reading the Night

We present this work in honor of Thiruvalluvar Day.

Ashitha
Indian
1956 – 2019

 

So clandestinely does
the night sketch the night,
like the fingers of darkness
entwining those of the shadows
caressing so intimately that
one becomes the other.
some stealthy lines
drawn on the inner paths
forking in separation
touching or un-touching.
some specks of light
perceived or un-perceived.
some dark forebodings
of a fall or of death.
mining the secrets of the dark
should be a meditative act
like all robes unravelled
from the body which then
weaves itself on its nude self.
night should be made love to
so intensely as a couple
raining by themselves
kissing again and again
the drops of sweat
dripping from the bodies
seized by ecstasy.
night is a poem
written by a woman
with her head bowed
while black serpents

slither along her tresses
to be read only by those homes
that have turned insomniac.

I’m the Girl Banned from Attending Christian Religion Classes

We present this work in honor of Coptic Christmas Day.

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh
Egyptian
1984 – 2015

 

I’m the girl banned from attending Christian religion classes, and Sunday mass
Although I am a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus
In Train Station Square at the height of the morning
Even then, all the windows were open and the blood was racing the cars on the asphalt
The eyes of the girls were running in Heaven, catching the forbidden rocking chair.

I am the girl banned from love in the squares
I stood in the middle of the street and gathered in my hand the stars of the sky, individually,
And the sweat of the street vendors
The voices of beggars
And the people who love God as they damn this moment that the creatures of God approved
To crucifying Jesus naked in the crowded square on the clock arms as it declared one at noon
I, the girl banned from saying no, will never miss the dawn

Peepholes

Caridad Atencio
Cuban
b. 1963

 

Over the brief crossing of two silhouettes
the calmness of the one who shall die first.

Depths in the fruit’s skin.

A tacit movement at the shadow.

Courage as a punishment,
obligation turned into desire.

I’m not afraid of hollowness.

It’s a pile of air

The fire you watched…

Only the weight of time creates a deaf heartbeat in my brain.

Being a Human Being

Tom Leonard
Scots
1944 – 2018

 

for Mordechai Vanunu

not to be complicit
not to accept everyone else is silent it must be alright

not to keep one’s mouth shut to hold onto one’s job
not to accept public language as cover and decoy

not to put friends and family before the rest of the world
not to say I am wrong when you know the government is wrong

not to be just a bought behaviour pattern
to accept the moment and fact of choice

I am a human being
and I exist

a human being
and a citizen of the world

responsible to that world
—and responsible for that world

I Will Command Them If They Listen

We present this work in honor of the Moroccan holiday, Green March Day.

Allal El Hajjam
Morrocan
b. 1949

 

He woke up sad,
My little one, trembling
In the abyss of the new morning,
But with a spark of fire in his eyes.
The robins of dreams
Flew in his sky
Like a cry from a wound.

Then I asked him
About the secret of his tears:
About the one who frightens the flowers
And reviles the beautiful birdsongs
While taking the dawn hostage.
Do they set you aflame?

He answered: “War, oh father,
Is a night that devours the light.
It is a ghoul that ensnares children,
And birds,
And poets.
It is a fire that ignites raindrops.
So command them,
Father—command them
To go easy on the lute-strings,
So that their melodies rise
Up into the sky,
Green,
Magic,
With the hope that they will protect us
From the evil of the embers that
Glow on the horizon.”

I wiped the hot tears from his cheeks,
Whose fire was kindled by fear.
Then I kissed the vibration
Of the sound from his lips
And I said to him:
“I will command them— but
Will they listen?”

Burn the Midnight Oil

Abdellatif Laâbi
Moroccan
b. 1942

 

You must stay up all night at least four times a year.
There aren’t enough crazy people around me to go further than that.
A single sleepless night isn’t worth much when you’re on your own.
It needs to be shared.
Only then does the city open up to you without thoughts of death.
Gargoyles carry out their work as exorcists.
Muezzins get drunk on street corners.
There is always a couple who get married at dawn by drawing lots.
The Partisans’ Chant becomes a drinking song.
Satan starts to wax lyrical and hands out unbaited,
red apples to the worshippers.
Feet trample on a treasure-hoard of stars.
The taste of sex rises in the mouth like lemon on oysters.
Only vagabonds can be poets.

Tell Your Story

Lebogang Mashile
South African
b. 1979

 

After they’ve fed off of your memories
Erased dreams from your eyes
Broken the seams of sanity
And glued what’s left together with lies,
After the choices and voices have left you alone
And silence grows solid
Adhering like flesh to your bones

They’ve always known your spirit’s home
Lay in your gentle sway
To light and substance
But jaded mirrors and false prophets have a way
Of removing you from yourself
You who lives with seven names
You who walks with seven faces
None can eliminate your pain

Tell your story
Let it nourish you,
Sustain you
And claim you
Tell your story
Let it feed you,
Heal you
And release you
Tell your story
Let it twist and remix your shattered heart
Tell your story
Until your past stops tearing your present apart

The Wreck

Don Paterson
Scots
b. 1963

 

But what lovers we were, what lovers,
even when it was all over—

the bull-black, deadweight wines that we swung
towards each other rang and rang

like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the drunk boat out of port

and watched our sober unreal life
unmoor, a continent of grief;

the candlelight strange on our faces
like the tiny silent blazes

and coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs

into the night for the night’s work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,

gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down

to mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back

to back, and made our way alone
up the mined beach of the dawn.

History Is a Heavy Matter

We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Heritage Day.

Gcina Mhlope
South African
b. 1958

 

History is a heavy matter
It is a strange animal with multiple heads
Colours too many to ever count
The creature’s unique colours have a way
Of awakening the most indescribable pride
But others bring back such sad memories
The very worst memories
Of events that left our ancestors
perplexed, speechless

And then it makes you feel so much joy
You hear massive drums pounding
Deep in your heart, with invisible hands
Beating a rhythm that goes Gu! Gu!
Another Gu! Gu! Another Gu! Gu!
Reminding you that these colours and faces and eyes
Are the proud heritage of a nation
They are shining, glittering brightly
And when one of the heads speaks directly
Come closer, go on and touch me,
Feel free to even caress me if you so wish
Yes, go on. Show off, tell the world
What a great achiever you are
Just by mentioning my name
Then remember who you are
Where you are from and where you are going

The warm glow of a happiness so overwhelming
The smile spreads down to your very toes!
And such indescribable pride about your history
But then one of the creature’s heads turns and shouts
Stop! Stop right there!
Remember that it is not only great events
That make up your history or that of any other nation!
Apply your mind, remember well the painful atrocities
And terrible mistakes
Learn, grow and be certain not to return to those times
That hurt your very soul
It is clear that the heart loves to suppress and cover well
This way it wants to avoid wasting precious tears
Oh, how they flow, unstoppable, when the heart breaks into pieces
As it sees the ugliness on the face
Of the multi-headed beast
Head raised up high, threatening, opening
The worst and deepest wounds
Prompting us to earnestly say
Indeed, history is a heavy matter

The maidens we honour here today
Died painfully fighting for their rights
The times were not at all like today
The laws of the land did not allow them
To even begin to open their little mouths
King Cetshwayo was unprepared for what happened
They defied the orders forcing them to marry old warriors
So he ordered them all to be killed
Today we honour the maidens of Ingcuce Regiment
Heroines we respect as we sincerely say
They did not lay down their lives in vain
Their memory inspires us to open our eyes
To face today’s challenges

It is time for us, young and old
To empower ourselves and each other to build the nation.
To make our ancestors in the land of Mthaniya proud
Yes, indeed, history is a heavy matter
But a great educator too
Courage, children of Africa, Courage!

(to the smell of misfortune)

We present this work in honor of Chilean Independence Day.

Rosabetty Muñoz
Chilean
b. 1960

 

The aridity of the gardens
finally tired them all.
Nothing, not even carrots
would grow in that rocky soil.

Breaking your back for
a fistful of herbs.

And the flowers? You’ll say.
And those huge dahlias, like trees?
Don’t remind me of those carnivores.
They seemed to shine their petals
to the smell of misfortune.
They grew
opened
moved their stamens
as we steadily fell.