The Hermit / Saadi Yousif

The Hermit

The poets leave
one after the other, at the end of the night.
They carried nothing but a poor man’s provisions
and open-return tickets.
I tell them: “Do not quicken your steps.
Brothers, wait another hour.
We are at the end of the night.”
But they leave.
The sky is not pitch black. Only clouds
fall deeply . . .
Black, they seem, and grey. Dawn is leery, yet it is still dawn.
To a constant white cloud in the corner of the sky I say:
I am yours, my, crescent-shaped radiance. I waited for you all night while you were under my pillow, pulling at my hairs and caressing. You will stay with me.
Wherever I am you will be. I will tell the sky to clear.
I will proclaim you daylight.
Good morning, dear boy.

The poets leave
one after the other, at the end of a verse . . .
How did you end up at point zero?
How did you end up here?
Where did you leave our lanterns, the mountain tops?
Have you never watched the eyes of cats?
Have we followed a line to its end?
Yet, you still leave.

This mountain will not be hemmed. This mountain we know. From its shacks we will bring honey, and eagle feathers for my shield. The flowers are without names.
And the threadbare spring, and the wolves that sniff for village smells. There are passageways, the paths of goats and smugglers. The soldiers are not guests here. The saint’s grave is blessed with green ribbons. And from houses we do not know, women and children come with candles and bread.

Good morning, dear mountains!

The poets leave
one after the other at the end of a branch.
How can you leave me?
Did we not gather around tables of drink?
How can we say: The ripples on the water are ours.
How can we say: The branches are ours, and the golden autumn.
And say: The beginning of the branch.
Yet you leave.

Tree, you are blessed. Flowering, you are blessed with peacock feathers and a hoopoe’s crest. You are sacred where ants lay their eggs. The porcupine circles you following the star, and from your branches grasshoppers chirp. In silvery white night you fan yourself with air from paradise. And in golden daylight you distil silver. I will say: you are my first tree. My hut and my tomb, and the crown I wear.
Good morning, poetry!

I will not blame you
I will not say goodbye through the wasteland of alcohol,
I will not bend when the storm erupts
I will repeat your names . . .
and your skies.
I will be the trusted guard over what you left behind.
I will not be the prince of dust.

At night
at the end of the night
birds will come to me
and the prairie wolves will come wet with dew
and the gazelle will come

At the end of the night
seven poets will take refuge in my cave . . .

Amman, 29 November 1994

Translated by Khaled Mattawa