There is no way for me to measure how much time this day was coming, but it seems to have been destined to arrive to me since always. There are no means left to escape it, and I recognise that even if I had them, I would only be postponing what will never go away, and I accept the need to face it. There is nothing but my conscience and my self now left to live with. It is time to take account – this once and always. However as I start to take account I find it difficult to know where to begin, if not the fact of my forgetting what it was that I would like to come to terms with. For perhaps it is this very lack of memory that I need to take account of. Not the memory of my deeds – although those deeds may be remembered in the course of my account to cause me many hours of shame and wishful thinking – but the memory of the reason I was given this existence, my forgetting of which cause has been the cause of my regrettable behaviours.
Jessica Sequeira: Race of the Horses
An old man used to sit outside my school every day, playing music on a traditional Chinese instrument. He would move a light wood stick over two pieces of metal. Most of the time the songs he played were slow, but some of the time he’d play ones that were real quick, and at those moments we kids would gather around. We had no problem making excuses to our teachers to leave class for five minutes, or take an extended lunch break.
Youssef Rakha: All Those Theres
Thanks to a flighty wi-fi connection at the riad where I stayed that time in Marrakesh, I heard Sargon Boulus (1944-2007) reading his poems for the first time. Sargon had died recently in Berlin – this was the closest I would get to meeting him – and, lapping up the canned sound, I marvelled at his unusual career. He was an Iraqi who spent more or less all of his adult life outside Iraq, a Beatnik with roots in Kirkuk, an Assyrian who reinvented classical Arabic. He translated both Mahmoud Darwish and Howl.
In Sargon’s time and place there is an overbearing story of nation building, of (spurious) Arab-Muslim identity and of (mercenary) Struggle – against colonialism, against Israel, against capital – and that story left him completely out. More probably, he chose to stand apart from it, as he did from a literary scene that celebrated it more often than it did anything else. Is this what makes him the most important Arab poet for me?
Youssef Rakha Translates Sargon Boulus
The refugee tells
The refugee absorbed in telling his tale
feels no burning, when the cigarette stings his fingers.
He’s absorbed in the awe of being Here
after all those Theres: the stations, and the ports,
the search parties, the forged papers…
He dangles from the chain of circumstance –
his destiny wound like fibre,
in rings as narrow as
those countries on whose chest
the nightmares have piled up.