Friday, April 8, 2016

The Feet of the Word

A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor by Maram Al-Massri

Where horses
cannot gallop,
where there is no
to allow
a beam of light to pass,
where no grass
I cling
to the feet of the word.

Published to critical acclaim in Tunis in 1997, A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor is a selection of poems by Syrian born author, Maram Al-Massri, that will impress the reader at once with its spare, unadorned language, and with its emotional and sexual candor. There is a curt, sometimes lyrical gravity to her writing, a concentration of insight and feeling, at points an almost wincing vulnerability in the poem’s various speakers, that makes it all feel instantly familiar to the reader, starkly, intimately, real. For those versed in classical Arabic love poetry, these poems may resonate even more deeply, colored as they are by the loss and longing characteristic of the poetry of such masters as Rumi and Hafiz, as well by the more modern treatments of these much-beloved subjects by such Syrian contemporaries as Fuad Rifqa and Huda Naamani. By one recent critic Al-Massri was called “an Arab love poet for the modern age,” a title she wears quite well.


He felt no shame before her
in his old cotton clothes
and his torn socks.
He undressed,
the way the need for love
strips naked,
and descended
like an angel
upon her body.


I killed my father
that night
or the other day—
I don’t remember.
I escaped with a suitcase
filled with dreams and amnesia
and a picture of me
with him
when I was a child
and when he carried me
on his forearm.

I buried my father
in a beautiful shell,
in a deep ocean,
but he found me
hiding under the bed
shaking with a dear loneliness.


Maram Al-Massri was born in Lattakia, Syria. Since 1982 she has lived in Paris. A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor was translated by Khaled Mattawa.

Peter Adam Nash

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