The Rising of the Ashes [Before]

Tahar Ben Jelloun
Before
a long time ago
I lived in a tree, then in a cemetery.
My tomb was under an oak. Dogs and men pissed on my head. I said nothing. Little 
     mauve flowers, scentless, grew there.
I had nothing to say.
Today shovels picked me up and threw me in this well.
I pace the abyss.
I descend. I am suspended.
The ashes still smolder. They rise, surround me, then fall again,
grey dust that makes my body a sand-filled hourglass.
I crumble. I am old abandoned rock.
I am sand and time.
I am faceless.
I nourish the land and pour my words into the land's blood.
I irrigate the tree roots in late spring.
I count the days and the deaths while 
men carry their households on their backs.

     *

This body which was once a word will no longer look at the sea and think of Homer.
It did not pass away. It was touched by a flash from the sky crushing speech and breath.
These crystals mixed in the sand are the last words pronounced by these unarmed men.

     *

In this country the dead travel
as statues and flames
They wear eyeglasses
and stretch out their scorched arms for flight.
We say they became invisible
Left to offer the living the years that remained of their lives.
Thus only years litter the desert: a century, more.
Lives for the taking, as jackals gorged on lives tremble to say:
"Death is not fatal just as night is the sun's shadow."

Related Poems

I Didn't Apologize to the Well

I didn't apologize to the well when I passed the well, 
I borrowed from the ancient pine tree a cloud 
and squeezed it like an orange, then waited for a gazelle 
white and legendary. And I ordered my heart to be patient: 
Be neutral as if you were not of me! Right here 
the kind shepherds stood on air and evolved 
their flutes, then persuaded the mountain quail toward 
the snare. And right here I saddled a horse for flying toward 
my planets, then flew. And right here the priestess 
told me: Beware of the asphalt road and the cars 
and walk upon your exhalation. Right here 
I slackened my shadow and waited, I picked the tiniest 
rock and stayed up late. I broke the myth and I broke. 
And I circled the well until I flew from myself 
to what isn't of it. A deep voice shouted at me: 
This grave isn't your grave. So I apologized. 
I read verses from the wise holy book, and said 
to the unknown one in the well: Salaam upon you the day 
you were killed in the land of peace, and the day you rise 
from the darkness of the well alive!