Other Language
The Friends There
Translated by: Khaled Mattawa

weave their new rags
in a morning with a missing sun.
Their bodies convulse, and their fingers are caught in
a fever of work.
They spin language with the excitement of magicians
and the confidence of artisans.
They offer wool to summer, and ice to winter.

Friends east of the water,
they work well in solitude.

I stand on the shore.
I watch their silhouettes outline the horizon.
I send them books in bottles that expunge my words.
and they are exceedingly gentle with them.
They run on a bridge
with flaming feet
and there
they climb burdened with scrolls,
a bridge that praises geography and disparages history
and vigilantly watches against the written word.
They hold texts under their arms
and descend like goats decorating the road.
I embrace them.
They cross through terror.
Their memories are of blood,
and their fingers, fastened to glass shards,
are soiled with hacked hearts.
We crash in the midst of love and death
like waves churning salt and luring vessels.
Naked bodies of young men,
where a shirt is never woven for summer,
and no feast is prepared for winter.
The lonesome friends are there.


KHALED MATTAWA was born in Libya in 1964 and emigrated to the USA when he was 15. In 1995-96 he was Alfred Hod der Fellow at Princeton University. In 1998 he was awarded a Guggenheim Po etry Fellowship, the first time ever to an Arab-American. Ilispoetry has appeared in many US magazines. He has translat ed many Arab poets into English and won the University of Arkansas Press Award for Arabic Literature in Transla tion.

Translated by Khaled Mattawa From Naqd aL-Amal. Dar aL-Kunooz al-Adabiya, Beirut 1998