Vox Populi

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Riad Saleh Hussein: The Bad Guy

to Sylvia Plath

And I remember that the blue woman, when she had seen me weeping corpses
     and the poor,
Said: your two eyes are mirrors showing fifty continents of aches
     and useless waiting
And the woman who wears the hurricane and the beasts said:
You know much about the girls in the alleys who are packed with
     colorful plastic locks
And the rich children who hold the wooden horses tight
And the breasts of their mothers
And the woman said, after having opened the screens of her eyes
(There was a lover who feeds in her on trees and prisons):
Your hands are hard but merciful
While your fingers are thin and painful.
Have you ever touched with them a precious loaf of bread or trembling grey lips?
Have you ever grasped with them the world?
And the woman said to me:
You hallucinate too much
The names of fish and seaweeds
You open the kingdom of your brain day and night for the lost caravans of gypsies
Not to mention tearing up with your nails the flesh of thick doors and walls.
So then what is the dearest thing to you:
To chew with vicious temper the heads of birds?
Or to smash dishes and tables made
Of walnut?
She said to me also
Looking at the distorted head
In a portrait by Saad Yakan:
Your mother is arched over you like a dove
And your friends exchange kisses
While I bury you in a cold night of October
Not forgetting to send you packs of vast dreams and letters.
Do you want to fail the spring? Or do you want to plough the galaxy?
And the hard-hearted woman said
I am inventing for you a lifeā€¦
Five white walls
And a white bed
And a white flower in a cup:
But I can invent a cascade
     I am the bad guy
For the honest Fatima, for the fearful Nazih and for the grim sea
Even for the plastic locks
For the noisy villages of grapes, cocks and convex bellies
For torn songs you find in the dustbin
For the estate stationery lined with stamps
For the aspirin pills and lovers
For clever matadors in Spain
For the solid shovel and soft farmer
For the green blood and coup mercenaries
I am the bad guy
I had to die young
Before I got to know mines and roads
Or the woman who washes her hands with perfumes
The king who decorates his head with skulls
The sly boy of the soft gum who takes milk
Out of bacteria, or wars out of victories.

I am the bad guy
I had to die soon
Before I got to know terrorist trees and mafias of peace
Before I got to see the death of the ice cream man on a railroad
Or the gypsy who gave me an omen and a kiss
Plus many lies.

I am the bad guy
I had to die early
Before a rose preys upon me
Or a clean artist engraves amulets and earrings out of my bones.


Translated from the Arabic by Saleh Razzouk and Philip Terman

Riad Saleh Hussein (1954-1982) was a Syrian poet from Aleppo province. He published four volumes of poetry, the first in 1979 entitled Destruction of Blood Circulation.

Saleh Razzouk, fiction writer and translator, currently works as an assistant professor at The University of Aleppo.

Philip Terman is a poet who teaches at Clarion University in Pennsylvania.


Translation copyright 2018 Saleh Razzouk and Philip Terman

First published in Poetry London. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the translators.

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This entry was posted on January 10, 2019 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry, War and Peace and tagged , , , , .

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