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Path of Light

Where have you come from?
From the other world.
And where are you going?
Towards the other world.

Rabi’a al-’Adawiyya

“Song of the Hermit”
 

I slept for three centuries on a bed of stones
I saw things men had forgotten
I measured the distance that separated heaven from earth
I read the palm’s lines I delivered the augury
a voice not my own spoke from my mouth
I disappeared into a city that had disappeared
armed horsemen invaded our plains
there we stayed waiting for the next barbarians
the sea withdrew from the doors of my city
I gained the favor of the earth’s rivers
I tattooed the day with my dreams
my face saw my other face
I did not hear the voice that was calling me
the hand that sought me did not find me
I was born many times from each star
I died as many times with each day’s sun
I took the early boat headed for nowhere
I asked for a room in the country of others
I had accomplished nothing before our farewells
I lived in the setting sun in the Levant in the wind’s space
I was that foreigner who came with evening
doubly foreign between north and south
I carved sad birds on gray stones
I drew those stones and inhabited them
I built rafts where there was no ocean
I pitched tents where there was no desert
caravans brought me to a dream of the orient
my calligraphies traveled on cloud-back
I remembered the snow of almond trees
I followed birds’ flight-paths
to the moon’s mountain to the eiderdown of birth
I learned and forgot all the languages on earth
I made a bonfire of all its homelands
some nights I drank from the flask of oblivion
I searched for my star in the bed of stars
I kept your love in the crease of my palm
I wove a carpet from the wool of memory
I unfolded the world under the arch of beginnings
I bandaged the wounds of twilight
I made bouquets of my seasons and offered them to life
I counted the trees that separate me from you
there were two of us on earth now we are alone here
I pulled a belt of words tight around my waist
I covered the mirrors’ illusions with a shroud
I cultivated silence like a rare plant
glimmer by glimmer I deciphered the night
for a while death courted me
in the sun I sought the way to the sun
I lay down in my grave and rose again
I went astray and found myself between one genesis and the next
I waited for you without waiting
until you became a poem
I mixed flesh with clay and with light
I mixed breath with what was already breath
I lived in the heated house of your voice
I made memories come to birth before they had lived
I hid my love in shadows’ modesty
I asked myself how to say it before saying it
and why I did not say it
I said that it was time to go towards you
I crawled to your lips across a bed of thorns
I believed that what united us
was what resembled us
in you I sought a country a language
in drawing away from the dream I came closer to it
I darkened pages with the poem’s night
the black bird of silence crumpled them one by one
I still don’t know what language speaks me and absolves me
I followed a path of light that led to the horizon
my country : a bouquet of farewells gathered over time
I unrolled its shores like a matting of alpha
I found a name for what was left of childhood
to flower in your arms
I threw the oranges of memory into a well
I drew my love in chalk on a wall of water
nothing remains in human memory
I walked within myself and far from myself
sometimes a shadow moulded itself to my shadow
I severed a bond at each departure
freeing the firebird from memory’s ashes
I walked within you and far from you
I allied myself with the alphabet of sand
with the wave’s undulations
with the peace which lowers your eyelids
my song will be in the image of that peace
I recogized dawn from the dawn in its gaze
I wanted a day in the image of those I love
I prepared the night for the harvest of dreams
I courted the visible embraced the invisible
I read about the earth in the great book of the earth
I bore witness to the ephemeral and the eternity of the instant
I lingered on the threshold of each threshold
our dead called from the other shore
the lines of their world furrowed the palms of our hands
the echo of their voices disappeared in the distance
the blood suicides were so many stones
on the ramparts of time
I took my first steps in the river’s silt
I was buried alive in sand under a mass of dunes
the cavern was blocked up to make my sleep eternal
my body was exiled to its own interior
my name was erased from all the registers
until the nuptials of the riverbanks
I carried emptiness in me like a drowned man’s mouth
December disappeared behind the horizon
I called out – only silence listened
I saw centuries stray until they reached us
the pomegranate tree flowered again between the stelae
my city changed its rulers like necklaces
my land : a cloud in the rising sun’s margin
why seek a place when we are the place
my shadow climbed a long path to reach me
one day I entered the house of language
I nested two birds where the heart ought to be
I crossed the poem’s mirror and it crossed me
I trusted the spark of the word
I placed a rebellious love in the trees’ springtime
and freed my hands so that the doves could take flight

Translation of "Sentier de lumière." Copyright Amina Saïd. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Marilyn Hacker. All rights reserved.