Somewhere beyond faith and grace there is
the footprint of logic lost in the purest light.
Not hidden at all, but a vehicle, a necessity, neither
mop nor bucket, but whatever gives the floor its shine.
The sun through the window pours on the floor,
and the wood glistens as if in praise.
As if a child breaking into a run. That is what I see
through the window now. A child breaking
into a run for the simple flame that must burn
and because there are such words.
Of course, I could be wailing.
Of course, the child is not a memory,
only a gesture on my part.
Yesterday, I fed a friend's cat and talked to her,
the town was emptied and filled with
snow embroidered with tire tracks.
I fed a friend's cat and she rubbed her sides against my calves.
The thing to say now is that I am in the middle of a life
in a house with the owners on holiday.
Or to say a car engine hums (the owner forgetting
the keys inside), and is on its way to a crystalline loss.
Here deduction is howling at an oncoming storm.
The thing is, I fed a friend's cat and later poured
a bowl of milk for her and she sniffed it,
barely licked it, and left.
The thought is. The life is.
I've visited graves—tombstones ten feet high.
I ran through the cemetery and laughed my Cairo laugh.
I wanted to be arrested by the police, wanted
someone to take down what I had to say.
Whatever I would have said then would have been the truth.
But there was no one there.
Only dust and a shitload of romance.
Only dust and the hum of the interstate. Detroit,
Toledo, the hitchhiker hums a foreign song.
I feed the cat and talk to her.
I take the milk away and begin to forget
and the cat stares at the missing milk.
Billions of snowflakes in between,
and the befores that follow the first before.
Copyright © by Khaled Mattawa. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Born in Benghazi, Libya, in 1964, Khaled Mattawa is a poet and translator of contemporary Arabic poetry. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2014 to 2020.
Date Published: 2010-10-29
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/before