The Speaking Hour

by Abdullah al Ryami

Your image
Here
Fluttering like a stolen shirt
And I am in your hands
A painting not yet completed
The artist died on his way to me

After all these years
I grow like grass following a storm

I am the grapes of fault
And you the vine
We haven't pressed enough to last the night
The night that forgot to close its eyes
The hanging lamps swing against the dark
And the knot that binds us is an ancient tree
We warm ourselves with its wood
I see the scars of my voice on your back
And darkness surrounds us like a white eagle
who left an egg on my windowsill

Like a clock hung on the horizon
When I looked at you
I understood how late it was
And when I wet my finger the first time
In your navel
My head turned a full circle
You were my neck

My fingers made kites
I blew on my hands
And the wind was blown
I hunt the Cork Oak
Through the sea of nights
I have been drinking a long time
No one came after me
Except afloat

Choose winter
And the rain is on me
Pour me a glass
And purse your lips
We almost got drunk
The night is before us
Many paint the morning
On our backs
Too meagre for two bodies

I am the grapes of fault
And you fill me as blood fills 
A fresh wound
The mirror is behind you
As you comb your hair
In the white of my eyes

The literal translation of this poem was made by Atef Alshaer

The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop

Notes

We first translated poems by Abdullah al Ryami in 2005 and it was a real pleasure to return to his work. As you'll see reading the poem, he works by moving from image to image; often the 'connective tissue' between these images is unclear, a lack of clarity that is enhanced by the absence of punctuation. In other words, sometimes it was difficult to tell whether a line 'belonged' to the one preceeding it or that which followed.
When I was typing up the poem after the workshop (me being Sarah Maguire), I was tempted to capitalise the first letter of lines which seemed to act as new sentences, or new thoughts. (This is something I often do in my own poems and translations: I won't use full-stops as they feel too strong, so I'll indicate the start of a new sentence with a capital letter.) However, on reflection I decided that to do this to this poem would be an intrusion as, clearly, al Ryami wanted this 'drifting' ambiguity in how the images fitted together. And so I decided to capitalise the beginning of every line, which of course is a traditional format in English poetry, but not necessarily in modern poetry in English. These are the kind of minute details that poets obsess about constantly.

We arrived at 'the grapes of fault' after a long discussion. It was clear from the Arabic that al Ryami was playing on that Biblical phrase (most famously appropriated by John Steinbeck for the title of his novel) 'the grapes of wrath', but that 'wrath' here was 'mistake', which was why we went with the one-syllable 'fault'.

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