A GRAVE FOR NEW YORK
By Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said)
the Earth has been drawn as a pear –
I mean a breast –
But, nothing between a breast and a grave stone
except a trick of engineering:
A civilization with four legs; each direction is murder
and a path to murder,
and in the distance
the moaning of those drowning.
A woman – a statue of a woman,
in one hand raising tatters named liberty
by sheets of paper which we name history,
and in another hand strangulating
a child named the Earth.
A body with the colour of asphalt. Around its waist
a damp belt; its face a closed window… I said: Walt
Whitman will open it – I utter the original password –
but no one hears it except a god no longer in his place. The
prisoners, the slaves, the destitute, the thieves and the
sick flow from his larynx, and no opening, no path. And I said:
Brooklyn Bridge! But it’s the bridge linking Whitman
to Wall Street, the leaf of grass to the Dollar leaf…
Who is the one approaching in a guillotine of silk?
Who is the one departing in a grave as long as the Hudson?
Explode, O, rites of tears; interlace, O, things of weariness. Blueness, yellowness, roses, jasmine;
the light is sharpening its pins, and in the pricking
the sun is born. O, wound, hidden between the thigh
and the thigh, have you blazed? Has the bird of death
visited you, have you heard the last throes? A rope, and
the neck entwines the gloom,
and in the blood the melancholy of the hour.
New York-Madison-Park Avenue-Harlem
Laziness like work, work like laziness. The hearts are
stuffed with sponge, the hands are blown with reeds.
From the piles of dirt and the masks of Empire State
rises history, odours dangling sheet upon sheet:
Not the sight is blind, but the head,
not the words are bare, but the tongue.
New York- Wall Street-25th Street-Fifth Street
A Medusian ghost rises between the shoulder and the shoulder.
A market for slaves of all races. People living
like plants in glass gardens. Wretched, invisible creatures
penetrate the texture of space like dust – spiral victims.
The sun is a funeral wake
and daylight a black drum.
On the mouldy side of the rock of the world,
nobody sees me except a black man on the point
of being murdered or a bird on the point of dying;
A plant inhabiting a red vase was metamorphosing
as I moved away from the threshold; and I read
of mice in Beirut and elsewhere swaggering
in the silk of a white house, armed with paper
and gnawing at people;
of remnants of pigs in the orchard of the alphabet
trampling over poetry.
And I saw:
Wherever I was-
Pittsburgh (International Poetry Forum),
Johns Hopkins (Washington), Harvard
(Cambridge- Boston), Anne Arbor (Michigan-
Detroit), Foreign Press Club, The Arab Club
at the United Nations (New York), Princeton,
the Arab map a horse dragging its steps while Time
dangled loose like a saddle towards the grave
or towards the darkest shades, towards the dead fire
or towards a dying fire, revealing the chemistry
of the other dimension in Karkuk, al-Dhahran and the rest of such fortresses in Arab Afro-Asia. And here is the world
ripening in our hands. Heh! We prepare the Third War and establish
the first, second, third and fourth bureaux in order to make sure that:
1- on that side, there is a jazz party,
2- in this house, there is a person who owns nothing
3- in this tree, there is a bird singing;
and in order to declare that:
1- space is measurable by cages or walls,
2- time is measurable by ropes or whips,
3- the system that constructs the world begins by murdering
4- the moon and the sun are two coins glittering under
the throne of the sultan.
And I saw
Arab names across the width of the Earth more tender
than eyes, shining but as a lost star shines,
a star who has no ancestors, and whose roots are
in his footsteps….
On the mouldy side of the rock of the world I know, I confess.
I remember a plant which I call life or my country, death
or my country- a wind that freezes like a cloak, a face that
murders play, an eye that dismisses light;
and I invent your contrary, O, my country,
I descend into your Hell and scream:
I extract a poisonous elixir for you and
And I confess: New York, in my country the colonnade is yours
and the bed, the chair and the head. And everything is
up for sale: daylight and night, the Stone of Mecca and the
waters of the Tigris. And I announce: Despite that, you pant-
racing, in Palestine, in Hanoi, in the North and South, the
East and West, against figures who have no history but fire.
And I say: Ever since John the Baptist, each of us has carried
his severed head on a platter, awaiting the second birth.
Crumble, O, statues of liberty, O, nails planted in breasts
with a wisdom that emulates the wisdom of roses.
The wind is once more blowing from the East, uprooting tents
and skyscrapers. And there are two wings inscribing:
Another alphabet rises in the topography
of the West,
and the sun is the daughter of a tree
in the orchard of Jerusalem.
Thus I set my flames ablaze. I start anew, formulating
A woman of straw, and the bed is swinging from void to void
and here is the ceiling rotting:
each word is a sign of falling; each movement
is an axe or a spade. And to the right and left are bodies
which desire to alter love sight hearing smell touch
and alter alteration itself- opening Time like a gate they break
and improvising the remaining hours
sex poetry ethics thirst utterance silence
and negating all locks. I said: I’ll tempt Beirut,
– Seek action. The Word is dead, others say.
The Word has died because your tongues have given up
the habit of speaking for the habit of mumbling.
The Word? You wish to reveal its fires? Then, write. I say: Write.
I do not say: Mumble. Nor do I say: Copy. Write – From the
Gulf to the Ocean I hear no tongue, I read no Word. I hear
noises. That is why I glimpse nobody hurling fires.
The Word is the lightest of things; yet it carries all things.
Action is a direction and a moment, but the Word is all directions
and all Time. The Word- the hand, the hand- the dream:
I discover you, O, fire,
you my capital,
I discover you, O, poetry.
And I tempt Beirut. She wears me and I wear her. We wander
like a ray asking: Who reads? Who sees? The
Phantoms are for Dayan, and the oil flows to its destination.
God is truthful, and Mao has not been wrong: weapons are a very
important factor in war, but not decisive. Man, not weapons, is
the decisive factor; there is no final victory or final defeat.
I repeated these proverbs and aphorisms, as an Arab does,
in Wall Street where rivers of gold of all colours
flow coming from the sources. Amongst them I saw
Arab rivers carrying millions of dismembered limbs
as sacrifices and offerings to the Master Idol. And between
each sacrifice and the next, sailors were cackling as they rolled out
of the Chrysler Building returning to the sources.
Thus, I set my flames ablaze.
We dwell in black fury
that our lungs may fill
with the air of history.
We rise in black eyes fenced like cemeteries
in order to defeat the eclipse.
We travel in the black head in order to march
of the approaching sun.
O, woman crouching in the arch of the wind,
a form farther than the atom,
a dot trotting in the space of numbers,
one thigh in the sky, another in the water,
say where your star is. The battle is approaching
between the grass and electronic brains. The whole of life is hung
on a wall, and here is the bleeding . At the apex is a head joining
the pole to the pole, in the middle is Asia
and at the bottom the feet of an invisible body.
I know you, O, corpse swimming in the musk of poppies,
I know you, O, game of the breast and the breast. I gaze
at you and dream of snow, gaze at you and wait for autumn.
Your snow carries the night; your night carries people
as dying bats. Each wall in you is a cemetery, each day
is a black digger
carrying a black loaf a black platter,
and with them plotting the history of
the White House:
There are dogs that interlock like cuffs. Cats which
beget helmets and chains. And in the alleys which sneak
on the backs of rats, white guards procreate
A woman ambles behind her dog; he is saddled like
a horse and has the stride of a king; around him
the city crawls like an army of tears. And where children
and old men covered by black skin pile, the innocence
of bullets grows like grass and terror strikes at the
breast of the city.
Harlem – Bedford Stuyvesant: Sands of people congeal
into tower after tower. Faces weave the times. Refuse is feasts
for children, children are feasts for rats… in everlasting
festivities for another Trinity: the Tax Collector- the Policeman-
the Judge- The authority of devouring, the sword of annihilation.
Harlem (Blacks detest Jews).
Harlem (Blacks dislike Arabs when they remember
the slave trade),
Harlem – Broadway (People enter as molluscs in alembics
of alcohol and drugs).
Broadway – Harlem, a fair of chains and cudgels, and policemen
are the germ of Time. One bullet, ten pigeons. Eyes are boxes
undulating with red snow and Time is a limping crutch. To tiredness, O, olden negro, O, infant negro. To tiredness again and again.
I have not come from outside: I know your rancour, know
its tasty bread. Famine has nothing but the sudden thunder, prisons
have nothing but the thunderbolt of violence. I glimpse your fire
progressing under the asphalt in hose pipes and masks,
in piles of refuse which the throne of the cold air embraces
in outcast footsteps wearing
the history of the wind as shoes.
Time is in the throes of death and you are the hour:
I hear tears roaring like volcanoes.
I glimpse mouths gobbling people as they gobble bread.
You are the eraser to erase the face of New York.
You are the tempest to grip it like a leaf and hurl it.
New York IBM + SUBWAY coming from mud and crime travelling to mud and crime.
New York = A hole in the Earth’s crust out of which
madness gushes river after river.
New York is in the throes of death and you are the hour.
Between Harlem and Lincoln Center,
I moved along, a number lost in a desert
covered by the teeth of a black dawn.
There was no snow, there was no wind.
I was like someone following a ghost (the face is no face
but a wound or tears; the figure is no figure but a dry rose)
a ghost – (Is it a woman? A man? A woman-man? ) carrying bows
in its chest and lurking in ambush for space. A deer
passed by and he called it the Earth. A bird appeared and he
called it the moon. And I learnt that he was running in order
to witness the resurrection of the Red Indian…in Palestine
and its sisters,
space was a ribbon of bullets,
and the Earth a murdered screen.
And I felt I was an atom rippling in a mass
rippling towards the horizon, horizon, horizon.
And I descended into valleys elongating and running parallel.
And it occurred to me to doubt the roundness of the Earth…
And in the house was Yara,
Yara is the end of a second Earth
is another end.
I placed New York in brackets and walked in a parallel city.
My feet were laden with streets, the sky was a lake in which
swam the fishes of the eye and the conjectures and the animals of
the clouds. The Hudson was fluttering like a crow wearing the body
of a nightingale. Dawn approached me, a child moaning and
pointing to its wounds. I called the night, but it answered not.
It carried its bed and surrendered to the pavement. Then
I saw it covering itself with a wind than which nothing was more
tender except the walls and the pillars… A scream, two
screams, three… And New York started like a half frozen
frog leaping in a pool without water.
That is New York: leaning on the crutch of old age
and sauntering in the gardens of memory, while all things tend
towards artificial flowers. And while I stare at you, amongst
the marble in Washington, and see your double in Harlem, I
think: When will the time of your imminent revolution come?
My voice rises: Liberate Lincoln from the whiteness of marble,
from Nixon, from the guard-dogs and hunting dogs. let him read
with new eyes the leader of the Zenj, ‘Ali b. Muhammad; Let him
read the horizon read by Marx, Mao Tse – tung, and al-Niffari, that divine madman who made the Earth so slender and permitted it to dwell between the word and the allusion. And let him read what Ho Chi Minh desired to read, ‘Urwa b. al-Ward:
I divide my body into many bodies…, ‘Urwa didn’t know
Baghdad, and he might have refused to visit Damascus. He stayed
where the desert was another shoulder bearing with him the burden
of death. He left for those fond of the future a portion of the sun soaking in the blood of a deer he used to call: ” My darling! He
arranged with the horizon to be his last abode.
That is New York: a mirror reflecting nothing but Washington.
And this is Washington: a mirror reflecting two faces-
Nixon and the weeping of the world. Enter into the dance
of weeping; rise up there’s still a place still a role… I adore the dance of weeping which becomes a dove that becomes a flood. The Earth is in need of a flood.
I said weeping but I meant wrath. I also meant the questions:
How do I persuade al-Ma’arra to accept Abu al-‘Ala; the plains of the
Euphrates the Euphrates? How do I replace the helmet
with the ear of corn? (The daring to hurl other questions at the Prophet and The Book is imperative),
I say as I glimpse a cloud adorning itself with a necklace of fire;
I say as I behold people streaming like tears.
I squeeze you between the word and the word; I grab you
roll you write you and erase you. Hot, cold and in between;
wakeful, slumbering and in between. I crouch over you and
sigh I lead you and teach you how to walk behind me. I crush
you with my eyes, you, the one crushed by terror. I try to command
your streets: Lie down between my thighs and I’ll grant you
another space; and your things: Clean yourself and I’ll give
you new names.
I could find no difference between a body with a head
bearing branches which we call a tree, and a body with
a head bearing thin threads which we call a person.
I confuse a stone with a car; a pair of shoes in a shop window
appears to be a policeman’s helmet, and a loaf of bread a sheet of zinc.
Yet, New York is not nonsense; it is a Word.
But when I write: ‘Damascus’ I don’t write a word but mimic
nonsense. D.A.M.A.S.C.U.S. …still a noise, I mean a rush of
wind. It once emerged out of ink never to return. And Time is standing guard at the threshold asking: When does it return, when does it enter?
Thus are Beirut Cairo Baghdad, total nonsense like motes of
One sun, two suns, three, a hundred.
(So- and -so wakes up, his eyes filled with tranquillity
mixed with anxiety. He leaves his wives and children
and goes out carrying his shotgun. One sun, two suns, three,
one hundred…here he is like a string defeated
curling under himself. He sits in a cafe. The cafe is crowded with
stones and toys which we call men, with frogs vomiting words
and covering the seats with filth. ) How can so – and -so rebel when
his brain is filled with his blood, his blood is filled
I ask you, who say to me,
I know no science, I specialize in the chemistry of the Arabs.
Mrs. Browning, a Greek in New York. Her house is a leaf
in the book of the Mediterranean. Merein, Ni’matulla, Yves Bonnefoy.
And I am a desultory figure saying unsayable things.
Cairo was scattered among us like roses oblivious to all times.
Alexandria mingled with the voices of Cavafy and Seferis.
This is a Greek icon… She said, as Time stuck to her
lips like a red perfume. Time was arching its back, and snow
was leaning on its elbow, (midnight of April 6, 1971).
And in the morning I rose screaming
just before the hour of returning: New York!
You mix children with snow and bake the cake of the age.
Your voice is an oxide, a post – chemistry poison, and your name
is insomnia and suffocation. Central Park prepares feasts
for its victims, and under the trees lurk the ghosts of
corpses and daggers. The wind has only the bare twigs
and the traveller only the blocked roads.
And in the morning I rose screaming: Nixon, how many children
have you murdered today?
– This is a trivial matter, (Calley)
– It’s true that this is a problem. But isn’t it also true
that this reduces the number of the enemy? (An American
How do I give New York’s heart another size?
Does the heart also extend its boundaries?
New York – General Motors – Death.
We shall replace men by fire! (McNamara) – They dry the sea
in which the revolutionaries swim and Where they turn the
land into desert, they call that peace! (Tacitus).
And I rose before dawn and roused Whitman.
I glimpse letters to you fluttering in the streets of Manhattan.
Each letter is a wagon loaded with cats and dogs. To cats and dogs is the 21st century; and to people annihilation:
This is the American Age !
I didn’t see you in Manhattan and I saw everything. The moon
was a husk hurled through the windows, and the sun an electric
orange. And when a black road, a road with
the roundness of a moon leaning on its eyelashes, leapt out of
Harlem, behind the road a light splintered all over the asphalt
and sank away like grass as it reached Greenwich
Village, that other Latin Quarter, I mean the word you get
when you take the word hub and add a dot under the h **.
(I recall that I wrote this in the Viceroy restaurant in London, when I had nothing but ink, and the night was growing like the down of birds.)
The clock announces the hour . (New York- women are piles
of refuse, and refuse is a time sliding towards ash ) .
The clock announces the hour (New York- The system is Pavlov, and people are for experiments… where the war the war the war !).
The clock announces the hour . (A letter coming from the East.
A boy has written it with his arteries. I read it: The doll is
no longer a dove. The doll is a field gun, a machine – gun,
a shotgun… corpses in roads of light connecting
Hanoi with Jerusalem, and Jerusalem with the Nile.)
The clock announces the hour, and I
see what you saw not and know what you knew not.
I move in a vast expanse of cans
crowding like yellow crabs
in an ocean made up of millions of islands-
persons; each is a column with two
hands, two feet and a broken head. And you
O, criminal, exile, immigrant,
nothing more now than a hat worn by birds
which the skies of America do not know !
Whitman, let it be our turn now. I forge a ladder out of my stares;
weave my footsteps as a pillow, and we shall wait.
Man does die but he is more lasting than the grave.
Let it be our turn, now. I await the Volga to run between
Manhattan and Queens; I await the Hwang Ho to flow
into the mouth where the Hudson flows. Baffled?
Didn’t the Orantes use to flow into the Tiber? Let it be
our turn, now. I hear tremors and shelling. Wall Street and
Harlem meet – Paper meets with thunder, dust with gusts.
Let it be our turn, now. Oysters are building their nests in the
waves of history. The tree knows its name, and there are holes
in the skin of the world, a sun changes the mask and the ending
and weeps in a black eye. Let it be our turn, now.
We can spin faster than a wheel, split the atom
and float in an electronic brain fading or glittering,
empty or full, and find a homeland in the bird.
Let it be our turn, now.
There is a little, red book ascending, not the stage
which decayed under the words, but that which has been
expanding and growing, the stage of wise madness
and the rain which awakes in order to inherit the sun. Let it
be our turn, now. New York is a rock rolling over the forehead
of the world. Her voice is in your clothes and mine, her charcoal
dyes your limbs and mine…I can see the end, but how do I
seduce Time to let me live to witness. Let it be our turn,
now. And let Time float in the waters of this equation:
New York + New York = The grave or anything emerging from the grave,
New York – New York = The Sun.
At eighty I commence eighteen. I said this I say and repeat,
but Beirut doesn’t hear.
A corpse is this, which identifies the complexion with the
A corpse is this, which stretches as a book not as ink.
A corpse is this, which doesn’t live in the grammar
and morphology of the body.
A corpse is this, which reads the Earth as a stone not as a river.
(Yes, I love proverbs and aphorisms, at times:
If you are not infatuated, you are a corpse) .
I say and repeat:
My poetry is a tree, and between the branch and the branch,
the leaf and the leaf, there is nothing but the motherhood
of the trunk.
I say and repeat:
Poetry is the rose of the wind. Not the wind, but the windward,
not the orbiting but the orbit.
Thus I abrogate the RULE, and establish a rule for each moment.
Thus I approach but don’t exit. Exit never to return.
And move towards September and the waves.
Thus I carry Cuba on my shoulders and ask in New York: When
will Castro arrive? And between Cairo and Damascus
I wait on the road leading to…
…Guevara encountered freedom.
They sank together into the bed of Time and slumbered.
When he woke up he found her not.
He abandoned sleep
and entered the dream,
in Berkeley, in Beirut and the rest of the cells,
where everything prepares itself to become everything else.
between a face tending towards marijuana,
carried by the screen of night,
and a face tending towards IBM, carried by a cold sun,
I sent the Lebanon flowing, a river of wrath.
On one bank rose Jubran,
and Adonis on the other.
And I exited from New York as I exit from a bed:
The woman was an extinguished star and the bed
was breaking into trees without a space,
into a limping air,
into a cross with no memory of thorns.
in the carriage of the first water, the carriage
of the images which wound Aristotle and Descartes I am strewn
between Ashrafiyya and Ras Beirut, between Zahrat al-Ihsan
and the Hayek and Kamal Press, where writing turns
into a palm tree and the palm tree into a dove.
Where the Thousand and One Nights procreate,
while Buthaina and Laila vanish.
Where Jamil travels between the stone and the stone
and nobody has the fortune to find Qais.
peace to the rose of darkness and sand
peace to Beirut.
SELECTED AND TRANSLATED