Burn the Midnight Oil

Abdellatif Laâbi
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.

The Brooch

Mririda n’Ait Attik
c. 1900 – c. 1940’s


Grandmother, grandmother,
Since he left I think only of him
And I see him everywhere
He gave me a fine silver brooch
And when I adjust my haїk on my shoulders,
When I hook its flap over my breasts,
When I take it off at night to sleep,
It’s not the brooch I see, but him!

My granddaughter, throw away the brooch.
You will forget him and your suffering will be over.

Grandmother, it’s over a month since I threw it away,
But it cut deeply into my hand.
I can’t take my eyes off the red scar:
When I wash, when I spin, when I drink—
And my thoughts still are of him!

My granddaughter, may Allah heal your pain!
The scar is not on your hand, but in your heart.

Anticipation of an Exclusion

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

Mostafa Nissaboury
b. 1943


I nomad
I heal through sand writings
the wounds of becoming in waiting
I’ll track the image of death in you
your star paths and there where it will be present
with kaftans with kif bouquets
fostering mirages death
very beautiful like the sovereign reading of our hands

Because I See us
I’ll spit out my remembrances at dawn without you
my inaudible kinships in the troubled waters of uncertain early mornings
I’ll be the one
whose voice is native to cities thrown to their defeats
in debris of heavens that haunt them
who does not know my name my origin I’ll be
the blood-me
so as never again to dream.

Death is red all-over who discovers
its blazing owl
and the dullness of a moon asleep
in its sources
Memory damned
From then on I speak the language
inherited from a vast spread out night

I nomad

I would like as in an ancient rite and wearing a mask
I would like with moving grounds
I would like with cycles of bodies walled in the mud I’d like
from yesterday to tomorrow
with streets booby-trapped with men with eyes like extinct suns
with streets without cities with cities without names
I would like
to arrive like a fish according to the customs of water
that punctuate your name with an island in my gaze
I would like like an intense cloud over crops without soil
like a life possibility that is other like a cry
to come back
and inflict on your body the spectacle of my shadow peninsulas
cut through our difficulty of being
or die
I speak
that half of my language where the sun is a fissure while in the
other half everything between us remains a thousand times
to be resaid
the sun is in my language
the phosphorescent jewel summing up venomous nights
of porphyry inside you
protecting forever from my sight
the fogs of your shores and the solid earth of your warheaded tales
the sun in my Adam’s apple
bursts the dams of refusal on the sea that I drink all up
to hear you I want to read
on your breasts the pink alphabet
of pain’s solitudes and the predictions of all the mountains to come
to ruin one religion a day without straying from myself
that is from the fracas and plutonium eruptions of my blood
standing watch on the ramparts of the jade palaces
of the mother-of-pearl mausoleums
I would like to ruin one religion a day and all the golden temples
in my memories — set traps for the phantoms
that venture
out of forgetting

I arrive
by the caravan
come out of the great gash
in space.

The Garden

In honor of the Moroccan holiday, Enthronement, we present this work by one of Morocco’s great living poets.

Abdelkarim Tabbal
b. 1931


Once this green grass
spoke love to me
whispered to me inside my feet
and so I fell in the lap of greenery
besieged in perfume
drinking the wine of wine
Once it sought to find inside my body
the stem
within my voice
the branches
in my wanderings
the shadows
It grew high in me and I in it
It clung to my mirror
At our reunion it adorned itself
with what is in the water
and in the sun
and in the music
and the dream
Stones summoned life’s passion
Life’s breath was roused. Children.
The voluptuous wind
vents its anger at me
The river nymph and I
sneak away to our secret place
and there she reveals the birth of trees
discloses the secrets of the garden to be
But who of you, travellers
from night to night
of the sea and its waves
enemies of the flowers
Who of you
trampled the heart
leaving behind only ruins
only the chaff scattering about in forgetfulness?
You can do nothing
The seed is lodged safely in the depths.

from Assembly of Dreams

Mohamed Serghini
b. 1930



Four neighborhoods recount the soul of the city. Utopian melody in four/four time; the birth cry of the disadvantaged, waking in an unattractive body. Reaction of libidinal chastity and the race of life’s routine. Outside these four neighborhoods there are only nests of straw to shelter the old eagles at the summit of the mountains, only bramble reeds to nourish the stray goats in the plains. Evasion assures the survival of chaos. (No plenitude escapes emptiness.) What will the hanging gardens say when their rotations are paralyzed, when water no longer flows under the norias, and under the grindstones of the mills.? Energy will be in a state of absolute grace. The wind yielding before the capricious pressure of the spheres. Blowing against the wishes of sailboats no longer.


The taste of the city is strange. A mix of kif, tobacco and mint. Only these drugs can braid the strands of insomnia. Time passes inexplicably. The wax of candles illuminating only their own circles. Logics crack under the weight of heretical slander. The militias of grammarians, of lawyers and illustrious engineers sharpen their theoretical arms. Ancestors in intensive care (revived, we imagine, with cooking gas mixed with fish manure).


At dawn the alleys and footpaths of the
Kingdom are deserted. The red of daybreak
No longer infects the ruins’
facades, receiving only a mute
Light from this red. (We fly over history
With red wings) Taken with fire, a thief
Has taught the phoenix to fill
The attics with onions, garlic, coconut,
Dry figs, black pepper
And raisins. (This dosage an
Effective remedy for unrequited
Love.) Reviving the burnt
ashes, the same thief demands
that the genealogical tree blessed by the
City drug itself only with its own
Unripe fruits.
Who dares hope for the withering of this
Tree? Who dares refute the crime
Of its secular age.
From closed to open,
The shutters of the door
Reaffirm the nostalgia of two beings separated.
Reaffirm that return is nothing but union.
Reaffirm that leaving is nothing but divorce.
We carry our dreams to the next sleep
Where the bed, inert and shivering with cold,
Hides its insomnia under the sheets.

from Tales of a Severed Head

In honor of the Moroccan holiday, Proclamation of Independence, we present this work by one of Morocco’s greatest living writers.

Rachida Madani
b. 1951


What city and what night
since it’s night in the city
when a woman and a train-station argue over
the same half of a man who is leaving?
He is young, handsome
he is leaving for a piece of white bread.
She is young, beautiful as a springtime
trying to flower for the last time
for her man who is leaving.
But the train arrives
but the branch breaks
but suddenly it’s raining in the station
in the midst of spring.
And the train emerges from all directions
It whistles and goes right through the woman
the whole length of her.
Where the woman bleeds, there will never be spring
in the night, in her head, under the pillow
trains pass filled with men
filled with mud
and they all go through her
the whole length of her.
How many winters will pass, how many snowfalls
before the first bleeding letter
before the first mouthful of white bread?

The Forest of Deceptions

In honor of Moroccan Independence Day, we offer this work by one of today’s most independent Morrocan poets.

Ouidad Benmoussa
b. 1969



There were countless deceptions in the notebook of life:
A radio transmits news of war while a hand raises the white flag
Dead people issue from dreams
Blood oozes out of the body of desire…
A distant house that you climb to from an angle watched over by the river… Deceptive it is
A reception room with a table in the middle, on which drunken poems sleep… Deceptive they are
A white curtain, from which light creeps in and assaults love’s posture… Deceptive light
A kitchen, from which you cross to the hugging space within the books’ view… Deceptive books
A bedroom, with sensual butterflies keeping vigil on every side pleasure… Deceptive vigil
A pair of pillows, a pair of witnesses, bawdy, reporting news of orgasms to the bedsheets which are jealous… Deceptive orgasms
A lamp, that lights up only when the body is extinguished… Deceptive it is
An undesirable morning… coming speedy and reminding of ablution rites… A deceptive morning
Deceptions… deceptions


Even shoes in the wardrobe spotted countless deceptions
Cockroaches wandering in the bathroom hall reported news of deception on the phone
On the T-shirt
On the blanket
In the jacket pocket
Deceptions without smell but suffocating
Deceptions on walls
On paint
On paper napkins
On the necktie
Deceptions in the window crack, from which emerges an eye flirting with another eye on the other side
Deceptions in greetings
Deceptions under the shower
In entreaties
In high-walled separation
In cities
In monasteries
In the waiting rooms of Heaven and Hell
Deceptions all along the difficult path
Towering deceptions
Pervading the city, the neighborhood, the building gate, apartments, ghosts that that haunt apartments
Deceptions leaking from gas pipes
From balconies overlooking roses, wheat, cactus, oleander flowers and black plastic bags
Leaking from palliative medicine boxes
Night clubs, matchboxes, tomato cans, packets of cigarettes and black boxes in booby-trapped planes
Deceptions skating on ice
Dancing on the heart stage
Demonstrating out in the street, and running for presidential elections
Raising slogans with the unemployed, although they hold the highest offices
Voracious deceptions, chewing the destinies of lovers and the weak
And crushing chickpeas and roasted almonds with their teeth in the love street
Deceptions trampling heart after heart
Suppressing passion after passion
And spreading in all parts of the mind fomenting more treachery… more discord…
And I upon the rubble of deceptions
Waving a scythe and a sword
A wound and a hemorrhage
Songs and music
I will deceive:
My face in the mirror
My body on the death bed
My time woven with error threads
I’ll deceive my joy and laugh loudly out of excessive pain
I’ll deceive the faces of those I loved with a slap of forgetting
I’ll deceive those who loved me by adding them to the list of the Mughal war victims
Those who betrayed me by dropping them into an electric wheat mill
Those who suffocated me with love palpitations, by dragging them into an abyss over there
I’ll deceive the world with a hard shoe blow on the head, till blood gushes as from a geyser… the blood of the world
I’ll deceive life with her lover death
I’ll deceive myself with anxiety
I’ll deceive the sky by breaking through the ozone hole
I’ll deceive monsters in the jungle of my imagination with poetry angels
I’ll deceive my step with a backward step
I’ll deceive the back with the front
I’ll deceive the front with the invisible
I’ll deceive the invisible with indifference
And laugh
And join the Forest… in my full elegance
And at the gate – the forest gate –
I’ll wear my high heels
So as not to disturb sparrows:
The foremost deceivers.

Always, I Open My Heart

In honor of Green March Day, we present this work by one of today’s most famous Moroccan poets.

Abdallah Zrika
b. 1953


I speak, first, from my fingernails, taken from the ocean’s sand, then from the algae of my hair in indigent atmospheres, then from my eyes, from the aluminum

of the sky
And I invite you all now
And my hand is firewood
I was born in an age of revolution
poor, poor, poor
up to the ankles of my feet
I was born barefoot
and sick
and hungry
and angry
until the ocean’s foam was in my mouth
and in my mouth was iron and rock
and words in mourning
and hungry children
and small dogs killed by the cold and rain
and fear
and people with torn clothes, bare feet
and in my hand, teeth of crystal
and anger
and the crying of children
and the ill
and blame
and here I am, angry
I blame the murdered
and I open my heart
I blame those who deserve blame
For the wound in us is deep
the betrayal deep
the murdered among us are hurting.

Before (from The Rising of the Ashes)

In honor of the Moroccan holiday, Revolution Day, we present this work by one of Morocco’s most revolutionary poets.

Tahar Ben Jelloun
b. 1944


a long time ago
I lived in a tree, then in a cemetery.
My tomb was under an oak. Dogs and men pissed on my head. I said nothing. Little
mauve flowers, scentless, grew there.
I had nothing to say.
Today shovels picked me up and threw me in this well.
I pace the abyss.
I descend. I am suspended.
The ashes still smolder. They rise, surround me, then fall again,
grey dust that makes my body a sand-filled hourglass.
I crumble. I am old abandoned rock.
I am sand and time.
I am faceless.
I nourish the land and pour my words into the land’s blood.
I irrigate the tree roots in late spring.
I count the days and the deaths while
men carry their households on their backs.

This body which was once a word will no longer look at the sea and think of Homer.
It did not pass away. It was touched by a flash from the sky crushing speech and breath.
These crystals mixed in the sand are the last words pronounced by these unarmed men.

In this country the dead travel
as statues and flames
They wear eyeglasses
and stretch out their scorched arms for flight.
We say they became invisible
Left to offer the living the years that remained of their lives.
Thus only years litter the desert: a century, more.
Lives for the taking, as jackals gorged on lives tremble to say:
“Death is not fatal just as night is the sun’s shadow.”