Valentine’s Gift: Nizar Qabbani by Yasmine Seale

The Jasmine Necklace

The Jasmine Necklace on pink paper in Nizar Qabbani’s neat hand. Courtesy of Yasmine Seale | قصيدة “طوق الياسمين” على ورق زهري بخط يد نزار قباني. مع الشكر للمترجمة

“Thank you for the jasmine necklace,”

you laughed, and I thought you knew

what it meant, this man’s gift of a garland

of jasmine. I thought you had understood.


You sat in a corner, brushing your hair,

drawing drops from a bottle of scent,

on your lips a tune, heartsick, French,

its complaint, like mine, pathetic.


Your feet, in brocade slippers:

two narrow streams of longing.


Then you went to the wardrobe

and took off your clothes,

and you put on new ones,

and asked me to choose.


Is it for me, then? For me alone,

this burnishing of your beauty?


So I rose to my feet

in a tangle of colours,

my forehead on fire.


The black one,

off the shoulder.

Are you hesitant?

But it’s the colour

of grief (my heart’s

own gloomy hue).


And yet you wore it,

and wore the jasmine

necklace, and I thought

you had seen its meaning,

this man’s gift of a garland

of jasmine. I thought you

had known what I meant.


This evening, in a small bar

I saw you dancing, saw you break

upon the arms of your admirers,

refracted in them, your lips

to the steady ear of another

were humming a French tune,

its sorrow as heavy as mine.


The certainty came over me

that it was for another, this

burnishing of your beauty,

for him the drops of scent,

for him that you change

in and out of your clothes,

when at your feet I saw

the jasmine necklace,

its mute white corpse

mangled by dancers,

a man’s arm swooping

to save it, cut short

by you, crowing:

“It’s nothing, only

a jasmine necklace.”