Robin Moger Translates Sargon Boulus

Meeting with an Arab poet in exile

Cedars of Lebanon, American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo Dept, Lebanon, 1900-20. Source:

Cedars of Lebanon, American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo Dept, Lebanon, 1900-20. Source:

At that outcast and lonely hour,

that hour of night when choices narrow

until each absence takes on meaning as a cloud of smoke,

between the voices of the drunken patrons in that small restaurant

and the wash of the still sea that beats, below, against its rocky shore,

at that outcast hour of night, that lonely hour,

he talked to me of the legendary poets of exile

and how he’d known them in his youth, he

who still followed the same path,

and from an ancient notebook

which bore on its cover the cedar of Lebanon

began to read aloud his long two-columned poems.


He’d known them all,

from The Apollo Group to The Pen League,

Rashid Ayoub, Iliya Abu Madi, Abu Shadi and the rest,

but chose the endless road, wandered

the world, sortied and sallied through the Americas,

not always lion-like (he gave me a wink);

he had brought down more than one gazelle in the Chicago snows,

been shot at by more than one doe-eyed maid on the banks of the Amazon

among them a mulatto girl of red-hot beauty—she chased him still—

who’d borne him a child in some jungle on his way.


He’d been a tour guide

guiding tourists from Miami to Brazil

through cities whose names I’d never heard, a chef

on a ship that crossed the Caribbean,

had tasted strange fruit, had brushes with death, Destroyer of Delights,

on more than one occasion,

(had been, for a while, a smuggler);

Indeed, there’d been a time, my friend,

a time when he had called himself a prince

and owned a row of houses


until the treacherous partner had appeared like Fate

followed, in search of forgetting, by drink

then women and their wiles, then thieving lawyers circling his head

like hawks, then the face of the Ashkenazi judge

like the ill-omened kite flapping over

the mound of garbage, then the abyss

of penury


and here he was

at last in San Fransisco where

the final storm had cast him years before

worn out by travel, cooking from midnight

till dawn, in this restaurant overlooking the sea and called The Lighthouse,

for these night birds, these wastrels,

but he explained to me that things had always been thus,

were always always always thus

and reminded me that Khalil Mutran

had opened a store selling charcoal in some city of exile

(Rio de Janeiro? He, conceivably over sixty, forgot the place)

where, as one customer left laden

and another with empty bags looked in at the door

he would pen in his ledger

lines of verse.


He said his goodbyes smiling

and waving his notebook in the air

and I saw him return to his stoves and the smoke rise up

anew, the notebook put back on a shelf

on which a ragged copy of Jibran’s The Prophet could be seen.


I saw his smoke rise again.

I saw anew the cedar on his notebook.