/art by Hayv Kahraman/
Khaled Mattawa is a wonderful Libyan-American writer, poet and a translator. Mattawa’s poetry frequently explores the intersection of culture, narrative, and memory.
Here is one of his beautiful poems, Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child, from the collection Amorisco (Copper Canyon Press, 2008).
Long after the sun falls into the sea
and twilight slips off the horizon like a velvet sheet
and the air gets soaked in blackness;
long after clouds hover above like boulders
and stars crawl up and stud the sky;
long after bodies tangle, dance, and falter
and fatigue blows in and bends them
and sleep unloads its dreams and kneads them
and sleepers dive into the rivers inside them,
a girl unlatches a window,
walks shoeless into a forest,
her dark hair a flag rippling in darkness.
She walks into woods, her feet light-stepping
through puddles, over hard packed dirt,
through grassy hills, over sticks and pebbles
over sand soaked in day, stones sun-sizzled
over lakes and frigid streams
through dim cobbled streets
darkened squares and dusty pastures.
She runs from nothing, runs to nothing,
beyond pain, beyond graveyards and clearings.
In the dark the eyes of startled creatures
gleam like a herd of candles.
They scatter and give night its meaning.
What echo of a bell lulled her
what spirit, what scent of a word
whose storm wrote her
what banks fell to drown her
which blood star
which thread of water
which trickle of light
whose heart being launched
whose floating soul seduced her
what promise did it make her
whose memory burned her
whose prayer did she run to answer
whose help, what sorrow clot
what pain dammed inside her
what wall must she rebuild now
whose treasure beckons her
who spread ivy like a veil to blind her?
Daybreak lies chained to a blue wall
from which the stars drop
and lose all meaning.
She runs past villages that lost their names
roads that lost their destinations
seas that lost their compasses and sailors
rivers that lost their marshlands and travelers
houses that lost their sleepers and criers
trees that lost their songs and shadows
gardens that lost their violets and benches
valleys that lost their worms and farmers
mountains that lost their prophets and marauders
temples that lost their sinners and spires
lightning that lost its silver and wires
chimeras that lost their bridges
minotaurs that lost their fountains.
Crescent moons hover above her,
ancient white feathers, birdless, wingless
lost to their own meaning.
Music rises out of her vision.
It stands, a wall covered with silver mosses.
A clarinet sounds a wounded mare,
violins women who lost their children.
Flutes blow their hot dry breezes.
Drums chuckle the earth’s ceaseless laughter.
Pianos are mumbling sorcerers
calling spirits and powers.
Cellos chew on the sounds of thunder.
Dulcimers skip about on crutches.
Dance floors flash their knives
daring their dancers.
Words mill about the streets like orphans.
Then a lute begins groaning
and dawn loses its meaning.
Night girl, night girl
your book is full now.
You have drawn all the pictures.
You have seen many weepers.
Stars held your sky in place and moons
floated on your lakes and washed them.