A daily poem #236 – July 30, 2010
by Tahar Ben Jelloun
translated by Cullen Goldblatt
The Rising of the Ashes [Before]
a long time ago
I lived in a tree, then in a cemetery.
My tomb was under an oak. Dogs and men pissed on my head. I said nothing.
Little mauve flowers, scentless, grew there.
I had nothing to say.
Today shovels picked me up and threw me in this well.
I pace the abyss.
I descend. I am suspended.
The ashes still smolder. They rise, surround me, then fall again,
grey dust that makes my body a sand-filled hourglass.
I crumble. I am old abandoned rock.
I am sand and time.
I am faceless.
I nourish the land and pour my words into the land’s blood.
I irrigate the tree roots in late spring.
I count the days and the deaths while
men carry their households on their backs.
This body which was once a word will no longer look at the sea and think of
It did not pass away. It was touched by a flash from the sky crushing speech
These crystals mixed in the sand are the last words pronounced by these
In this country the dead travel
as statues and flames
They wear eyeglasses
and stretch out their scorched arms for flight.
We say they became invisible
Left to offer the living the years that remained of their lives.
Thus only years litter the desert: a century, more.
Lives for the taking, as jackals gorged on lives tremble to say:
“Death is not fatal just as night is the sun’s shadow.”