ditch,

the poetry that matters

Yahia Lababidi

Yahia Lababidi is an Egyptian-Lebanese poet and author of a new book of original sayings, Signposts to Elsewhere, ( www.janestreet.org/press ) which has been quoted widely in such US publications as The Week Magazine, The New York Observer and Sun Sentinel. The book was also featured as a Book of the Year in The Independent, UK, 2008; as well as in the Year in Books, Sun Sentinel, USA for 2007.

 

He is the only contemporary Arab author to be included in the acclaimed encyclopedia of The World's Great Aphorists - a compendium of wit and wisdom, by James Geary (2007).
 
Yahia Lababidi’s poems and essays have appeared in
Cimarron Revue, Leviathan: journal of Melville studies, Mizna, Stranger at Home: Anthology, Dream Catcher, Orbis, and Other Poetry.

Cairo

 

I buried your face, someplace

by the side of the new road

so I would not trip over it

every morning or on evening strolls

 

still, I am helplessly drawn

to the scene of this crime

for fear of  forgetting

the sum of your splendor

 

then there’s also the rain

that loosens the soil

to reveal a bewitching feature

awash with emotion

 

an eye, perhaps tender or

a pale, becalmed cheek

a mouth tight with reproach or

lips pursed in a deathless smile

 

other times you are inscrutable

worse, is when I seem to lose you

and pick at the earth like a scab

frantic, and faithful, like a dog.

 

 

 

 

 

Poy

 

He plays with fire

against the night sky

he looks like a man

juggling the stars

 

Now humbly bowing

harnessing elements

the chains mystically dissolve

and only the dance remains

 

Slow dancing the figure whirls

like a Sufi in a skirt of flame

or some spiritual bullfighter

with his twisting cape ablaze

 

Until amid luminous circus wheels

the flame ritual dies out

trailing a numinous light

like esoteric script across the night.

 

 

  

 

You again

 

You again, of the singing wound

here again, lost and found and lost

trafficking in metaphysics and eternity

as the nearest hopes

 

where to, pilgrim

outdistancing chasms

rationing emotions

seeking sustenance

 

for the self too subtle and proud

for words

nocturnal flower, nurtured solitude

watered night

 

there you go, restraining the impulse

to say it all at once

even surrounded by silence

still filled with noise

 

now, having stirred some thrumming

hour when the moon throws

her full-bodied light

over all, like a silver screen night

of silent films, the whirring

of the reel. 

 

 

 

 

dawning

 

There are hours when every thing creaks

when chairs stretch their arms, tables their legs

and closets crack their backs, incautiously

 

Fed up with the polite fantasy

of having to stay in one place

and stick to their stations

 

Humans too, at work, or in love

know such aches and growing pains

when inner furnishings defiantly shift

 

As decisively, and imperceptibly, as a continent

some thing will stretch, croak or come undone

so that everything else must  be reconsidered

 

One restless dawn, unable to suppress the itch

of wanderlust, with a heavy door left ajar

semi-deliberately, and a new light teasing in

 

Some piece of immobility will finally quit

suddenly nimble on wooden limbs

as fast as a horse, fleeing the stable.

 

 

 

  

 

In Memoriam

 

He preferred muted suits:

prison grey, mousey brown

before the death sentence

 

But illness changed his tastes

as though, dipped in terror,

he somehow acquired color

 

Blossomed in riotous patterns

sporting vests that grew bolder

as did the stomach cancer

 

The stealthy advance of blackness

brought forth a gleaming will  

the bodily treachery, more trust

 

And that sweetly spirited protest

meant he smiled more, and softer

opening up as his body shut down

 

This was his last, graceful stand

emaciated and wasting away

in some way, to give style to death.

 

 

 

 

 I saw my face

 

I saw my face this morning

hovering at the base

of a coffee cup

 

eyes liquid black

and thirsting

lips parted as if

 

some great spoon

had stirred me to the depths

and left everything, swirling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do animals dream?

 

Do they dream of past lives and unlived dreams

unspeakably human or unimaginably bestial?

 

Do they struggle to catch in their slumber

what is too slippery for the fingers of day?

 

Are there subtle nocturnal intimations

to illuminate their undreaming hours?

 

Are they haunted by specters of regret

do they visit their dead in drowsy gratitude?

 

Or are they revisited by their crimes

transcribed in tantalizing hieroglyphs?

 

Do they retrace the outline of their wounds

or dream of transformation, instead?

 

Do they tug at obstinate knots

of inassimilable longings and thwarted strivings?

 

Are there agitations, upheavals, or mutinies

against their perceived selves or fate?

 

Are they free of strengths and weaknesses peculiar

to horse, deer, bird, goat, snake, lamb or lion?

 

Are they ever neither animal nor human

but creature and Being?

 

Do they have holy moments of understanding

in the very essence of their entity?

 

Do they experience their existence more fully

relieved of the burden of wakefulness?

 

Do they suspect, with poets, that all we see or seem
is but a dream within a dream?

 

Or is it merely a small dying

a little taste of nothingness that gathers in their mouths?

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Storm-riding

 

I could not decipher the living riddle of my body

put it to sleep when it hungered, and overfed it

when time came to dream

 

I nearly choked on the forked tongue of my spirit

between the real and the ideal, rejecting the one

and rejected by the other

 

I still have not mastered that art of storm-riding

without ears to apprehend howling winds

or eyes for rolling waves

 

Always the weather catches me unawares, baffled

by maps, compass, stars and the entire apparatus

of bearings or warning signals

 

Clutching at driftwood, eyes screwed shut, I tremble

hoping the unhinged night will pass and I remember

how once I shielded my flame.

 

 

 

 

 

If

 

 

If there were more than one of me

I’d shave my head and grow my beard

I’d be a Doctor of Theology

 

In great coat of myth, impermeable to ridicule

I’d raise my voice and sing

hymns to the Unknown god

 

Another me would come undone voluptuously

submit to possessions, deliriously

mate with night in vicious delight

 

I would be, in a word, unspeakable

indulge an appetite artistically criminal

gloriously indifferent to utter:  ruin!

 

Yet another me might take to the stage

part animal, part angel in improbable outfits

strike ecstatic poses, fuse with masses

 

Or perhaps, at last, renounce words and self

occupy an eye, to better see

in silent awe, peripherally

 

But, there is only this ambitious pen, and playpen

fencing a mass of miscarriages

trembling from time in unquiet blood

 

And I, with reluctant fidelity, am guardian

Looking over the restless, violent lot

for fear of fratricide.

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