To the Tyrants of the World

Aboul-Qacem Echebbi
1909 – 1934


Imperious despot, insolent in strife,
Lover of ruin, enemy of life!
You mock the anguish of an impotent land
Whose people’s blood has stained your tyrant hand,
And desecrate the magic of this earth,
sowing your thorns, to bring despair to birth,

Patience! Let not the Spring delude you now,
The morning light, the skies’ unclouded brow;
Fear gathers in the broad horizon’s murk
Where winds are rising, and deep thunders lurk;
When the weak weeps, receive him not with scorn—
Who soweth thorns, shall not his flesh be torn?

Wait! Where you thought to reap the lives of men,
The flowers of hope, never to bloom again,
Where you have soaked the furrows’ heart with blood,
Drenched them with tears, until they overflowed,
A gale of flame shall suddenly consume,
A bloody torrent sweep you to your doom!

Translation by A.J. Arberry

For Tunisia

We present this work in honor of the Tunisian holiday, Martyrs’ Day.

Samia Ouederni
b. 1980


Do not fill their voices with smoky air
because shut mouths of despair are blocking their spit, their revived viruses,
their weaknesses to tell the story
when the noise of a rolling stone is swearing at god.
Shall I, at least, say
that memory is decayed
that history is dismayed;
that past is dead deeds
and mythological dates are the land’s seeds
as the sheep have forgotten about the wolf’s teeth
Shall I say that Eternity
means not a Calvin Klein’s perfume
but looms above their hats and doom
denying all celebrity?
Or will you forget someday
that trees have their leaves to be lost
over heartless pebbles and frost?
I have learnt from history that dam-builders
will be forever damned.
When the water will rise with the people’s tears,
it will spare none.
Shall I tell about a woman’s cry
amid sounds and swear-words?
Or loudly my voice will tell of
female shapes whose bodies have been displaced for time and space
in fashion magazines?
Can I turn on a TV pretending to re-appropriate history
or will its waves bring about voiceless shouts?
Now, when writing is fired by scientific neutrality that cries:
Can I, at last, see purged tongues laying down their sandals and feet
with no chance even to cheat
or tell what their hearts hide?
Will I be hanged when they will understand?


Jamila Mejri
b. 1951


I know what the sea tells the desert
And the words of high palm trees through gesturing
The sound of the sands praising
when water flows
The fear of the spikes harvested them
scythes of strangers
And the thirsty seed reveals to me
If he gets high, he is free
And if the wind whispers
in the wide open
I realized her grandfather’s shiver
In the ecstasy of the passions
I know what was silenced
from the sighs of the mute
when it complains to me
about the burden it bears
And the blame of the dead
The disillusions of the alive
It is the heartbreak of History
The most glorious names
And it went on to pick up the tracks
In the desperation of darkness

Translation by Mehmet Hakkı Suçin

Formal Poem

Amel Moussa
b. 1971


In the old house
where my grandfather composed his formal poems
I live as a concubine in my kingdom,
my dress is wet,
and on my head I place a crown.

In the old house
where the jug is tilted
water seeps out
mixed with prayers.

In the old house
where my first cry echoed,
I spread the soil of lineage
for us to sleep on,
one soul stacked next to another.

In the old house
where my grandmother was throned a bride
I search for her shawl
and place it for my shoulders to kiss.

In the old house
I cross ancient nights
and carry food to dervishes.

In the old house
I hand away my embers as a dowry
to lovers bathing in rain.

In the old house
Love wears us like a cape
and the courtyard becomes
twice its size.

Translation by Khaled Mattawa


Abdelfattah Ben Hammouda
21st Century


I asked a gardener
He said: the plant… the plant of light
I asked a woodcutter
He said: the tree… the tree of light
I asked a farmer
He said: the flower… the flower of light
I asked a poet
He said: the word… the word of light
I asked a lover
She said: the kiss… the kiss of light

I asked them all
The scoundrels didn’t tell me about a leaf
that falls every day on the head of one of us
No one told me about the shiver
and the plants of the other world
where there exists the smooth stone of eternity
What kind of idiots are these people?
Their leaves fall every day on my head
while I am rocking them to their last resting place.

Translation by Miled Faiza and Karen McNeil