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The Mothers

From now on the mothers will sleep alone
among the portraits of the dead
only the mothers know where they’ve gone
and how the long labour of dying
had distanced them already from the living

alone from now on the mothers wander
among the graves of the departed
reciting down those avenues of death
prayers in unknown languages
telling the heavy beads of dispersed time

they no longer measure time
by nights that fall across the earth
nor by mornings rising on the world
they ask everyone where the territories
of death begin and where they end

the mothers discover solitude
the world contained by a square of hardened earth
they keep having the same dream that cracks darkness open
converse with the emptiness of mirrors
repeat the same prayer in which daylight is dying

from now on in the rumpled sheets of time
the mothers celebrate solitary weddings
in the deep silence of their houses
clocks without hands
mark the passage of the hours

from now on night will have eyes
tracking the mothers’ sleeplessness
two angels inhabit them who one day
will ask for our accounts when our turn
comes to approach the doors of heaven

with the rosary’s thread broken
the mothers pour the water of their tears
into the graves’ crucible
they pay attention to the flight of birds
messages from the dead between their wings

our second home is built
in the avenue of death say the mothers
why have we given life
just to struggle with the shadow for it
until our own last breath

all we see of our kin is bleached bones
hands soiled with graveyard earth
we plant trees and bushes so those branches
will be the roof of their new dwelling
if only we had known say the mothers

we reread letters the dead once sent
and imagine different answers
everything becomes clear once it is too late
there is not enough thread of regret
left to string the shards of our night

our hands tremble the mothers keep saying
from looking into too much darkness
our eyes can barely see light
the suns have deserted our gardens
long rags of cloud hang from the trees

we all dance suspended like puppets
with time holding the strings
our movements replicate
ancient gestures and from now on no one
will hear our expropriated speech

what wouldn’t we have done for our loved ones
plucked the splinters from life’s thorny bouquet
then one by one the roses wilted
from now on  through a windowframe
we will watch the sea marry the horizon

our life a glimmer that flickers on shadow
slowly we divest ourselves of our backbones
hunched over further each day
with the inconsequential weight of memory
and with waiting for our own end.

 

Translation of "Jusqu’aux lendemains de la vie." Copyright Amina Saïd. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Marilyn Hacker. All rights reserved.