Nine poems by Saudi poet Ahmed al-Mulla

 

THE FAMILY

Ahmad Al Mulla Banipal 56
Ahmed al-Mulla

The trumpet came in through the windows, blowing a pain that the mothers had parcelled and stored away, hiding it in cracks and on high shelves. What wind was it that frightened the curtains and tore to shreds their long anticipation? It moved the picture of the wall and stripped speech bare; the flute trembled, on the point of thirst, and the copper on the door shed tears. It was not the napkins at a banquet that fluttered on the roof, but an absence entrusted to a heartbeat that a farewell had suspended.

What souls were they that the room had once come to like and had not forgotten – souls that had left their mark in the dust, in the hollow of the chairs, the stain on the pillow and the imagination of the wood!

Souls gasping, their absence attested by the amber in the grandmother’s hand, eyes closed. She smiled that the absent one should sing of her flower, her hollow cheeks flushed to hear her small, forgotten name. She had not opened her eyes, lest she see more absence.

It is not a bedtime call to the children but a longing that flows from the pitchers of the breast and from violins, a trembling moan begging the scream to lessen its effusiveness, and stones that plunge – plunge but do not fall.

The fire finishes its portion of the loaf, and the mother rushes to the balcony, her hands suspended in flour, seeking reassurance in the stored memory that hangs down to the horizon from the beam of her long gaze. She arranges it and spatters it with the water of her eye so that it does not dry, and the breeze does not scratch it. Sometimes she leaps from lack of sleep to lean over the balcony, and returns with a downcast sigh, as if my father had pulled the rope from far away.

Sister, why did the visitor hesitate to give a knock, whose fingers you could count? Wasn’t the dove enough for yearning? The air on the roof is needed to dry your eyes. Speech has dried up, and a small message retrieved by the birds is filled with the feathers of dreams, which you shake in the sun every dawn.

Farewell, my brother, our father died centuries ago and our mother is in the farewell bed. I could not sleep when the house was empty of her yet full of her touch. How did you dare open the door for my return?

Her voice, which we missed; her voice, which sought help from a slow gesture of her fingers, ringing in my ears whenever I drew near the hospital. I forgot her little songs in the morning of the grandchildren. I forgot the bitterness of a candle that threw a circle around her of shadows of cruelty.

I forgot the headache, bound around her head in a faraway house. I forgot the swelling in the neck that gathered grief. I forgot the tablets of incense which she secretly passed to the old. I forgot her cloak in the midday heat, gathering our loss. I forgot her tears from the leaf of the door when the visits ended. I forgot her finger tracing the air as a prayer for the one departing…

Farewell. Your brother has been betrayed, and in the middle of the rope there remains only a single thread to be broken for him to fall.

 

I AM ONLY A MESSENGER

And because I
Am frailer than the call of the flute in the valleys,
I was too slow to catch her voice. The candle of her chest caught fire, honey flowed over the grass, and a wood trembled that by chance she had passed by. But I could find no feathers, nor any trace of a vanished dress, and of her lungs no shards of glass or lightning remained. Footsteps had gone before me, and a wind that had combed the valleys with fog, returning a trembling to the nests and the windows.
Where had she taken all its branches? What axe had emptied the air as it struck? As its obstinate firewood split the pebbles, it gave out the final death rattle of a soul.

Firewood dragged by its hair in a trembling of dust. The shepherds did not notice the sound. I called on the chariot of the sun to slow, on the cloak of the night to lighten its moons, the sigh of the mist. I sought from on high for the whistle of the fire and the gold of the caves, for the tinkle of flames in veins still green, and for the crests of the smoke.

I followed the ashes, I followed the filings and the shavings scattered in the wind. I asked the carpenters and implored the teeth of the saw.

I was not knocking on doors, you house dwellers! I did not leave my freshness in the window leaves to moisten the waiting. I do not seek a stray thorn on the road, supporting the barefooted, nor do I look between the covers of a book. I have come with a supplication known to the bereaved mother who appeared through the cracks in the wood, a supplication awaited by the young girl behind her window, a supplication that is soiled in the bosoms of the old in the patience of sheikhs and the memory of widows. Faces have darkened further the dark colour of its longing, and bereavement has thinned its cane.

I am only a messenger,
The fields made me carry a fruit that has dried up while calling for what they had lost:
Tree, where are you?

Translated by Paul Starkey

 

A BICYCLE

Once you said it –
close your eyes
no heaven can reach you,
you will touch no ground.

On “a bicycle”
do not shift your weight
right or left.
Upright, jump between them,
the sentence will split into two.
Raising one foot after the other
to push forward:
one word after the other
as if climbing a hill
to slide down the slope on the other side,
with two wings.

Climb,
let the air bow down
to carry you.

A bicycle:
there is no poetry
in stopping.

A wheel turns.
People and trees appear.
You pass the music and the shadows.
The entire scene
is light, without discomfort.
Only
let out your breath
then inhale.

A bicycle
without which
the earth does not turn.
Spinning around itself,
without purpose or meaning.

Once you say
“A bicycle”,
you pump blood into the universe.
You shrug off
walking and standing,
words and meaning,
heaven and earth,
time and place,
the destination and the road.

 

MY PEBBLE

Quick –
I want to write a poem
about a pebble,
small and smooth
rotates every time I turn,
pulls me back if I stray.

Very quickly,
I want to observe a dying meteor following me
which only I can see.

Quick,
before the thought plummets,
before someone notices
my place is vacant.

That pebble
bores into my sole
and pains my days.

Sometimes
I think of it as part of the journey’s toil.
Sometimes it is a bone
jutting out of my body
piercing the ground.
But I always take it with me
while no one is looking.
I’ve changed many shoes
and soles,
but it hasn’t abandoned me.
My journey is hard
and long,
and my pebble cuts its path.

I always promise the night
that I will stop
and spread open my shoe like an oyster
to extract the pebble with my thumb.
I hurl it away, at once.
I walk barefoot
and wipe away my footprints.

But it’s
my pebble,
neither buried
nor passing away.

It is there
wherever I step –
my pebble is earth.

 

INSOMNIA

Isn’t there someone who can hear?

The night got tired of the candles’ company
but the flame didn’t notice that.
Where did the silence go, the companion of absence?
In which window did the words hide,
their branches bowing?
When did drowsiness evaporate, diving
into sea-borne fog?

Insomnia burnishes the lanterns,
cleaving dawn,
sucking dew
off the stone of sleep.

Is it that every time love haunts me
my clothes quarrel with me,
and emptiness falls down
on my body?

Coachman of the dawn, lend me
your weary horse
and take my hand.

March 27, 2006

 

FIRE ALPHABET

The girls wrote us on the walls of their rooms and drew the curtains. Our names were not visible to their mothers. Rather, we slid behind the closets, our first letters carved into the window frames, or maybe we were thrust into the folds of pillows like needles. Once we resembled roses, another – the scent of night, and for many times we traversed the mirrors when sleep grew dear and the pain of solitude immersed fingers in cold and darkness.
The girls wrote us and washed up in haste, running away from the knock on the door as if it could see us dripping.
The girls wrote us till our scent seeped out of the wires, that is why they devised to move the phones thinking the family guardians would not notice the flush over which whispers kept tripping.
The girls wrote us and held their breath.

We wrote the girls on the house’s fences, we openly wrote their names on walls that follow the bus to school and bring it back. We wrote them on pebbles thrown at window panes. We wrote them with mistakes we used to call our sisters and didn’t pay attention, and many times we had to prostrate ourselves in penance as their names interrupted our worship.
We wrote them in our notebooks, on the pages of books. We forced them into songs and coated our dreams with them every night to make it rain. They had a ring to them that lasted only as long as the voice broke and words trembled.
We wrote the girls and watered their hair.

We wrote the girls and the girls wrote us and the trees were happy and did not wipe out our names.
And here we are, now that the words have matured and our bodies have been seated on thrones and winter we treated with foam and desire, commiserating a long abaya and huge darkness, not knowing how the roses repented and who plucked the names of the girls from the walls and when did the water stop to be healing and the dreams to be dreams.
Firewood, and the flames choke on letters.

June 12, 2006

 

NIGHTCAP

In his dream the cup kept falling, and its shards scattered and thirst blazed on the tiles. His sigh rose to a dizzying height and did not come down. His fright was tumbling into a pit full of feathers abandoned by the eagles. Hot blood awakened his wings. Wounds were pushed aside by leaves, as if autumn knocked on the window and the pane did not hold out. Meanwhile, the glitter was thrust, clawing the bones. When waking gripped him he did not rise lest his branches break in the smoke of loneliness. He whispered to the ceiling so the tree walked to him and extracted him out of the thorns. While it returned to the sun, to its job, to a shade confused by passers-by, he did not dare.

In the kitchen thirst fell down.
His dreams trembled.
The window was torn open, stabbed by lightning scattering in the hallways.
His hands settled down and his soul reclined but there was nothing to lean on. They dived into clouds, drowning caught them and salt followed suit.
Water flowed, sobbing until the walls were dry. The pictures flaked off the walls and glass leapt out of the wooden frames.
The estrangement of his bed subdued, it makes him a nightcap.

June 20, 2006

 

Translated by Youssef Rakha

MELANCHOLY’S FEE

All I want
is to unfurl my features
color my face
stick a red rubber ball onto my nose
put on a fixed arch of a grin
and a colourful fez on my head
and do up the sparkly buttons on my shirt.

I’ve no desire to write
in solitude
thoughts on cosmos and chaos
nor have a revelation about existence
or devise solutions to the unknown.
I’m not interested in what time means to the space I cross
where it touches me.

I won’t think of some being
in a past spot
or a time to come.
I wouldn’t care less about the fate of unknown galaxies
I won’t explain loss
I won’t interpret absence
I won’t write figuratively
about a stomach ulcer.

No
let me get back to coloring my face
and leap off the top of the ring
and walk the tightrope.
Let my companions be
a chimpanzee, a yellow balloon
and a crowd of passersby
filling the big tent
point jeering at me
and laugh at the top of their voices
at my repetitive walk
imitating the thinking monkey
brazenly scratching
between his legs.

 

ELEGY

Write my elegy now
and don’t place medals on my gravestone
tomorrow
when I’ll be too busy to listen to your poems
seeking out the friends who preceded me
searching for their numbers in my smartphone.

I will eulogize you with silence
as my hand gropes the dark for a shoe
that fell off at the threshold.
I suppress my ringing laugher
whenever I see you firing off similes like fireworks.
The air is a little heavier here
so sound seems to travel slower than I thought.

Dear poets,
you missed the opportunity
and I won’t be offering it again.

Translated by Raphael Cohen

 

Ahmed Al-Mulla was born in 1961 in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, and has a BA from King Saud University.
He has published eight collections of poetry and has written several plays and film scripts.
He was a member of the Board of the Eastern Region Cultural Club, and in 2008 he organised the first Saudi Short Films competition.

First published in Banipal magazine n0 56 Summer 2016
www.banipal.co.uk