Weaving a World
From the dark spaces of memory
I emerged, rising through a pinprick of light
in the gloom, on all sides the falling
bodies of dead song-birds: these trees
that cast no shadow on their own reflections – I
fashioned them, forging, hammering, working the metal.
And so I found myself, in the wind, fully fledged…
will keep clear a road for me, care
about the solitary journey
I make, torch in hand, in search of home,
or stride towards this body when it’s
blackening in the blazing desert heat?
Out of reach, stripped bare, orphaned,
betrayed by the secret fires
that October ignited,
I set about searching, searching
for a consoling guide like the moon: for a woman
also stripped bare, in a distant field,
whose fingers might cradle, whose body
might shelter, whose breast
might nurture this aching for home.
I had somehow to hide
the frail, blood-stained shoots of April
inside me; I had to allow the crimson night-sky
its majesty; I had
to learn how to stain
the space of the present
with what seeps from a forgotten wound.
Feeling my way through an inner forest, I practised
the art of self-possession: at times my own jokes
had me laughing out loud.
From the dense air
that surrounded me I gathered
the tears that stitch no shroud.
I bequeath to strangers all
I had to say, and the touch of my loves; the cell
or cave of my retreat is the shape of my soul.
What am I there? The light that floats
or the wound that streams or the dark
itself? Can words name it? What am I there?
To walk through day and night, both in time, and on it…
Swaying beneath the ceiling, silent, brooding
on ancestors, all the time longing
his blood sing –
or for someone to take and guide
his fingers, and sing songs that refute dying…
he likes to think that those who spin
and weave won’t die alone. Slowly
he removes a leg from the wall.
Others may live alone, but not spiders as patient,
as industrious as he is.
How beautifully you offered
me the moon, as I caressed
away your tears, and you, alight
with love, thrust
at my vitals with a kitchen knife.
Was I here or there?
How one we were!
I got undressed.
I was beyond hunger, obsessed
with the mystery of you.
How, why should I
conceal my longing with senseless
fig-leaves? While I
was naked, you were immortal.
You were the thirsty body
next to mine in bed, the sky
your blanket and the constellations your roof: why?
You were the deep waters in my body
when, sweating through winter, I daydreamed I was a cloud
of rain, dove-white, aflutter with souls: why?
You were the barbs of insomnia
tearing my breast, and the friendly winds
coursing through me, driving these streaming rain-clouds: why?
You, naked, were the only one present at the sacred
instant when, moving the sky to one side,
I reached out and caught hold of the birds of eternity: why?
Poem – may you be green
and alive, a world
through which I wander aloft
on wings, with my whole
being. Inspire my tongue
until the tribes that inhabit my voice,
long silent, are fed again.
Poem – alone and sleepless,
I find you are neither green
nor alive, nor a kind master
nor a muse-figure, but an addictive
fusion of delirium and memory!
The literal translation of this poem was made by Hafiz Kheir
The final translated version of the poem is by Mark Ford
April and October: References to two successful peaceful uprisings, in October 1964 and April 1985, staged by the Sudanese people against the military dictators, General Aboud (1958-64) and General Nimeiri (1969-85), both of which introduced brief periods of democracy (Sudan has been ruled by the dictator, Omar al-Bashir since 1989).
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2015