Monday, 12 June 2017

Cavafy's Whip - Adam Fet'hi

The prickly pear,
thorny, of wily fingers, friend to Tunisians on wedding nights
(when the grains of chance ripen) and eid mornings, when
halawa calms
the tufts of burnouses.

The prickly pear,
wily, of thorny fingers, polite in this, preserves
your cry “What will we do without barbarians?”
And it doesn’t stand up for its kind
when called
a Berber fig*, for example

How polite
too, like Dido’s bull, when it wags its tail with joy at your enduring question
“What will we do without barbarians?”
Wondering how its skin can lose the kind, to become
a Berber city, the first last letter
of its name,
Carthage, for example

Trapped in their bodies (last of the birds of majesty), they come to the end of the journey, stumbling over one obstacle after another,
carrying money sacks of dreams on their shoulders
to a place where there is no window for fresh air
other than Berber poetry. As if the wild man
said, here they are
in their cages of refinement
politely watching their kind
die out,
being replaced with blind names,
the virtuous citizen, for example

Why then say they were a kind of solution, the Berbers?
Or were they the dissolution of the kind?
Or were they the front ranks of ostriches, crossing, disburdened
of their dreams, one sack at a time, in order to
arrive quickly
not knowing

The caravan slept while they walked.
It slept, Cavafy.
The cracking of your whip will not incite them: “What will we do without barbarians?”
That was a whip for another sleep.

Now tell me:
What can we make without dreams?

Adam Fet'hi (real name  Fet'hi al-Qassim) (born 1957) Tunisia
Translated by Camilo Gomez-Rivas
Source: Banipal
* Arabic for prickly pear is teen Hindi, ie, Indian fig


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