The N’goni’s Whispers
Wherever I turn my head
I hear a swaying beat
licking my wound
the way a cat licks
I vainly try to tear out
this African melody
from the bottom of my memory.
But the n’goni’s whispers spill again into my dream
and rattle through my blood.
They fumble inside me
like an embryo inside his mother’s belly.
Oh, African man,
and the memory
to weave these stifled sighs
so they light a fire in my intestines!
Nothing extinguishes this ember.
It’s All Possibilities
Perhaps I was an idea
someone had, that he turned into
a tangible body
to perform his failed experiments,
or a cloud that was weary from travelling
so it landed on the ground,
and failed in all its attempts
to return to the sky.
Perhaps I’m nothing but
a reflexion of a structure’s shadow
by which and on which I live,
but which I don’t see.
I was those lines
which form the movement of your hand signal.
Your hand beckons
and I undulate.
Your hand rests
and I dissolve.
It’s all possibilities or mere illusions.
But the one fixed truth
is that your eyes are a green sea
that gently lulls me
and makes me yearn for
what I was one day,
although I don’t know what I was
or what I am now.
But in the end
it’s no more than pain.
Death Sentence for a Poem
for poet Ashraf Fayad
In the beginning we stuffed our ears
so we wouldn’t hear the irritating sounds of shots
until we lost our hearing.
Then we began to scrape the sidewalks
to remove the traces of dried blood
until we lost our fingernails.
Tears flooding, we sat counting corpses
until our eyes ran dry.
Now our heads remain,
and before they crush them like dry petals
we’ve started to disassemble the land mines
and plant roses and poems instead.
So they tried to sentence the poem to death.
From Dust to Dust
Every day, in traffic,
I make my way through
the eroded streets of the capital.
And all I hear
is my small feet falling
on the asphalt
and the sound of the wind
kicking the dust around me.
With each step, dust piles up,
it surrounds me,
and envelops me.
I see only it.
My life is nothing but black storms
and my heart is that great lamp
that reflects its light before
the gloom of time uselessly.
Years have trifled with my thoughts
and left spots, large and painful,
on the tatters of my memory
to remind me
that one step in water
is enough to discover the sea.
Oh, trifling girl,
who dwelt my soul yesterday,
don’t forsake me again!
Come, let’s dance as in days gone by
between the eucalyptus trees
and perfume ourselves
with the fragrant scent of love
from breathless lovers!
Come, let’s not care about
thought, mankind, and existence!
Oh, you who are noble and pure,
I clearly see
the tablet of your sermons
hung on high
inscribed with letters from our blood!
We, who are addicted to sins and flaws,
you’re tired of opening our eyes
to the path of righteousness!
But your eyes don’t see
and your hands can’t beckon.
Here I shut behind me the door
of your promised paradise.
I lift my lungs, packed between my ribs,
to breathe the scent of freedom.
I, the sinful lover,
I listen to the whistle of the wind
as it kicks the dust around me,
and I await a pain unknown.
Special thanks to translator extraordinaire Professor Kay Heikkinen for her careful edits and astute suggestions.
ASMA JELASSI is a Tunisian poet. Her poems have been published in numerous Tunisian and Arabic literary magazines in print and online. Some of her poems were translated into English by Ali Znaidi and published in International Poetry Review and Columbia Journal Online.
ALI ZNAIDI (b.1977) is a poet, writer, and translator based in Redeyef, Tunisia. He is the author of several chapbooks. His translations into English have appeared in The Lifted Brow, InTranslation: a web-exclusive section of The Brooklyn Rail, International Poetry Review, Lunch Ticket, Columbia Journal Online, Samovar Magazine, Exchanges, and elsewhere. For more, visit aliznaidi.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter @AliZnaidi.
HEATHER HUA, born in 1996, is a multidimensional artist in illustration, comics, and animation. Born in Zhejiang, China, and higher educated in the US, Hua is fluent in Chinese, English, and Japanese. She graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology in 2021 with an MFA in illustration and holds a BA in Economics from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently, she is based in Los Angeles and working as a freelance illustrator.