The Night of Absence

by Said Salah

The coupled two
The pair of two
The pair united as one
The matched and amorous
Blissful with God’s blessing
Communicating wordlessly
They make an agreement
Within the cycle of days
In each-other’s absence
They appointed a day
But then there was absence
They failed to meet that day
There was no yes or no
Within the cycling days
That awful day recurs 

My beloved and I were one
Through our sweetest days
We ambled in joy
But what I remember
Is the night of absence


The night of absence
The absence of that night
The belief of awed love
The pain’s bitter taste
In this sad song
I will let the story loose   

It was a single night
Within the week’s seven days
The one night that
We were appointed to meet
A yearned-for evening


As my siesta drifted
To an afternoon dream
I sensed she had arrived
At the planned place 

 It was a city evening
And time to go home
Lagging on my leisurely walk
I greeted each
guri

Just as evening deepened
I reached our rendezvous
But she was not waiting
Oh that night of absence
The absence of that night
The fate of the lover
The pain’s bitter taste
In this sad song
I will let the story loose

I was hesitant
Yet traced her steps
I asked for her by name
Was told she was home

But her presence at home
The space she lit
Could not be seen as in the past
It looked pitch dark


I took myself to dine where we once ate
Saw a vacant chair - she was not there
Food should have soothed me
I took a bite but lost my appetite 

So I got on the path
To trace her footsteps among the many
But deep as I searched
I saw no signs, nothing I knew


As it got late, the moon kept me company
But the night no longer shone
The place of meeting
Was no longer where it used to be 

The hopeless morning loomed
Still I rambled
When her female friends
Came to tease me
Oh that night of absence

The grown, supple twig
Wears a glut of leaves
Festooned with nectar
But I could not find my garden
The night was endless
And my hope
Made each moment tick more slowly
I left with regret


But then was filled with dark prophecy
She’d be angry - told
That I’d arrived
Yet had not waited but was gone
Angry questions, a voice raising
Why wasn’t I still there? 

Our love affair 
Wasn’t disguise or deceit
At the nucleus is love
It amazes that I might
Have stood you up
I seek refuge in that night
What brings back this memory?
For the mind to churn
To note its third anniversary
To memorialize that night
To repeat the memory! 

Oh night of absence
If you were not the absentee
I wouldn’t sing this song
Or lay the carpet of love


Oh night of absence
If you were not the absentee
I wouldn’t compose this poem
With such literary prowess

Oh night of absence
If you weren’t the absentee
I wouldn’t have learnt wisdom
So I thank you

The literal translation of this poem was made by Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

The final translated version of the poem is by Clare Pollard

Notes

Unfortunately we've not been able to fully replicate the special formatting of the original poem on our website. The stanzas that we've italicised, in the original, are centred and unitalicised.

This translation was commissioned by The Somali Week Festival which is organised by Kayd and supported by Arts Council England.

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