Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Khaled Mattawa, Poems and Protest

A poet friend of mine, Marcela Sulak (who by the way is an amazing poet and you should check out her book Immigrant), recommended the Libyan-American poet and translator Khaled Mattawa. Mattawa was born in Benghazi, Libya and moved to America in the 1970s when he was a teenager. I have three of his books of poetry. I am ashamed I have never read him before. His work is breathtaking and innovative, and yes, political.

So many in Israel worry about what the revolutions will mean to Israel. Uncountable times I've heard, "No Arab revolution has ever been good news for Israel". Perhaps. Whatever happens, there will be pain. The only hope is that it is short-lived, and that it leads to better things for Egyptians, for Yemenis, for Libyans, for Syrians, for Jordanians. 

I copied Mattawa's poem "Now That We Have Tasted Hope," just written below. It's not my favorite of his poems but it is one of my favorite statements. I love the last two lines. You can hear Mattawa read the poem on the BBC web site.


Now that we have tasted hope
Now that we have come out of hiding,
Why would we live again in the tombs we’d made out of our souls?

And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled with prayers and consolations,
What would their torn parts be other than flesh?

Now that we have tasted hope
And dressed each other’s wounds with the legends of our oneness
Would we not prefer to close our mouths forever shut on the wine
That swilled inside them?

Having dreamed the same dream,
Having found the water that gushed behind a thousand mirages,
Why would we hide from the sun again
Or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of darkness,
Live in death again after all the life our dead have given us?

Listen to me Zow'ya, Beida, Ajdabya, Tobruk, Nalut, Derna, Musrata, Benghazi, Zintan,
Listen to me houses, alleys, courtyards, and streets that throng my veins,
Some day soon
In your freed light and in the shade of your proud trees,
Your excavated heroes will return to their thrones in your martyrs’ squares,
Lovers will hold each other’s hands.

I need not look far to imagine the nerves dying rejecting the life that blood sends them.
I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope
I have fallen into the embrace of my own rugged innocence.

How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
How high were the mountains in my ocean’s fathoms?
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.

Now that we have tasted hope,
Now that we have lived on this hard-earned crust,
We would sooner die than seek any other taste to life,
Any other way of being human.

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