A BOAT TO LESBOS A poem by Syrian poet Nouri al-Jarrah

NOURI AL JARRAH Kikah magazine
Nouri al-Jarrah


Elegy to The Daughters of Na’sh*

Translated by Camilo Gomez-Rivas


I saw lightning in the east
in a wink
then west
I saw the sun dripping
in its blood
and the sea agitated
and the past robbed of its books.

(The Call of Sappho)

Suffering Syrians, beautiful Syrians, Syrian brothers fleeing death. You won’t reach the shores on rafts but will be born on beaches with the foam.
Lost gold dust you are, melted gold dust, scattered, dulled.
From abyss to abyss in the hollow of the sea of the Rum, with the star fish and her brother, the roving squid, the waves convey you under the light of Ursa Major, the Daughters of Na’sh.
• • •
Like mermaids born in the quivering light, beautiful Syrian women set tender, wounded soles on the rocks and grey sand of Lesbos.
Come down from the fruits of al-Sham
to the rocks of pain.
• • •
Brother Syrians, rolling on waves, killed on the beaches, feverish, gasping on dark shores with morning-like faces, here, in Lesbos that Troy made cry.
Come, let me kiss your cheeks, rosy with fear.
• • •
Come, friends. The sand of the shores gleaming in your eyes, the East rippling golden ears of wheat in the copper of your faces. Rise as the high mountains rose in your smooth cheeks. You swing in my mind as the poplars swung in the wind of your days and the apple blossoms scattered in the gale of your crossing. Come into the darkness of Lesbos, you Syrians who emerged from the broken tablet of the alphabet.
• • •
Come down, be the blood of light and the alphabet of language.
• • •
How, my child, did you not make it into my arms? How did the wave ebb away with you from me and leave you there on the shore of Izmir, an angel without wings?
We carried in skins the best wine from Lattakia. The best wine. Grapes in the boats of Cypriots, on the shoulders of sailors from Crete. Grapes from al-Sham, from Darayya, Douma, and Wadi al-Shamiyyat, sweet balm on their hands.
I sent my neighboring sisters carrying water. They took it to the beach and returned with a boy they said was sleeping. When they laid him out on the sheet we saw he had no face.
At dawn, I was turned inside out by thoughts of green and blue light. Cold waves carried the spoils of sailors and travelers drowned in a distant sea.
You fight for life on the boats, and the sea swallows you before you land in Lesbos, while I die in Sicily fleeing home. Don’t believe Poseidon or Ulysses’s ship. Don’t believe the letters and don’t believe the words. Nothing is left of Cadmus fleeing with his sister from Tyre in flames but shards on a boat.


I escape death on death’s carriage
the sky casts me with ripped wings to flounder in my blood
and in
I flounder
and all I gain is absence.
• • •
And now, in Damascus,
I have two images:
A fist smashes the door,
and an open forehead, knocking.
As if I were shrouded
I see
going into my fate.


Is this the door to the house,
or are the shadow and I a door to the fantasy of the house?
The sun that was here
one day
on the down of youth
and this door
a shadow standing
in the sun of my song.


I return to open the door I shut
years ago,
I walk in a terrible emptiness
and the shadow that the house door gave as a gift to the sun
in the shadow
and shatters
leaving my footprint soaked in the silence of my song.


You want me in the clothes of a martyr
stretched out
in the water of your silence.
It’s your command
that I be
a flower
in the button hole of the shirt.


Had I another fate
I’d go by no name
but the one you gave me
Oh Sham.
My little sister, you are
of the butterfly
in the winter of the world,
blood of history.


In the constellation of Taurus I read my fortune,
I watched the bow that shot the arrow, as it passed the mysterious and hit the ankle of fate.
On the edge of the cliff
at the moment of the suicide’s cry
I waited for the Daughters of Na’sh to appear.
I saw shooting stars
and thought the mail was for me.
• • •
On a dark terrace of yesterday’s surah,
I sat
ten nights
but no caravan brought a companion
nor any bird brought back my message.


Traveler in the dessert
my goal
is to get lost seeking the right path
and return from an eternity I imagined to a day on which no fruit perishes
or gold deteriorates.


My blood doesn’t want me alive
my blood escapes me
leaks out of my veins
shows me my trembling
My blood fills my hand
it spatters the rocks and the windows and the trees.
My blood
want me
my love.
• • •
I’ll tell my mother
I, the one afraid
of the depth of my blood:
Why did you give birth to me inside this book and leave me wavering in my fate
inside its cradle?


I stand in the Umayyad courtyard
and flagellate myself with chains
and keep flagellating until no part of my body is without a wound that cries for Hussein.
With the sword Zulfiqar2 I bleed my skull.
Who am I?
• • •
In the Umayyad courtyard
in the Umayyad courtyard
my body slices history in two
and allows the blade of the comedy to find the descendants of Muawiya and his son Yazid.


Let’s walk under the silent sky whose tongue is stone
walk over the years
walk and walk and become habituated
walk and send words from tongue to tongue.
Let’s open the dictionary and greet the words
Let’s open the papers and read on their pages what the poets wrote.
Let’s walk barefoot on this silence, so no word is wounded.
• • •
Whose shirt is this, with the bloody collar
Whose jacket is this, on the peg
dripping blood
this footprint at the door
and this strange smell in the flower pots
the scream suspended in the sky of the house
Whose scream is it?
• • •
I’ll walk with you and with myself
hear my footsteps on the corniche
one step in the shadow and one in the injured light
the shattered light, frayed at the edges
those who crossed yesterday are ghosts wandering in the burning light.


In see-through nature I make you walk, in thorny nature
inscrutable and frightening
death advances gradually over laughter
is an earring glittering and lighting the esplanade
cry of March
his shirt and forearms.


I was waiting for a letter from another city
I was waiting for the sun and the moon in separate letters
but shadowy figures, dusty figures, veiled your day
and dispersed.
But now it is a dead night in a drowned night
and the sun and the moon are dying brothers.
• • •
If you were the boy of my gaunt hand, if you were my drowsy eyes
Who’ve seen and lowered their look
I’d be the silence of your repose on the grass
You’d be the puzzlement of an instant.
• • •
Your day is fate crying
and your life is water in the night.


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