February 15, 2013

National Translation Month: Akram Al-Katreb, translated by Osama Esber

Akram Al-Katreb, translated by Osama Esber
Today, I would like to share with you the poems of a Syrian poet and friend, Akram Alkatreb, in the lovely renditions by Osama Esber. Alkatreb’s poems are heartbreaking, full of love and longing for his native war-torn country, which he addresses as if it were a beautiful woman. Enjoy!

—Claudia Serea

The War’s Cries

Her mouth, which resembles war cries,
The men who fall while dawn in their mind
Is a bird with its two wings.

Damascus Road

I think, for example, of riding a taxi
and hiding in the mountain, near Ibn Arabi’s shrine.

The photographer wants to take a photo for you on Damascus’s road,
While your sons are waiting for you at John the Baptist’s house:
Here, where a complete life happens for an angel from the Middle Ages.

At that hour,
wounds are higher than the ground
And people grow wings.

The City of the Blind

Barefoot, I want to walk towards you,
unable to pay for a ride.
Cut from a tree that bends in front of your house,
I want to escape to the age of 21
Because I am unable to forget the odor of your body
In the city of the blind.

This Syrian Face

All what you can do to this Syrian face is to return it
To Cezanne’s water colors.
It is beautiful to be a bust, without doubt, immune to decay
And stars never leave the eyes,
To be a real inscription on an old Egyptian tablet.

A Lonely Tree

This man, who stands alive and resists submission,
Performs his historic dance and goes to weep with the fish.

What surrounds him:
Wounded people in front of houses,
a lonely tree.

Under the Sun of the Caucasus Mountains

I did not mean insult while you are dying for me
I wait for you, like a Circassian man, dreaming of a mat under the Caucasus sun;
Or an Armenian longing to Ararat Mountain from the window of a train at al-Hijaz station;
Or a Palestinian from Diaspora remembering his mother’s face very well;
Or a Kurd playing on the Bouzuki all God’s sad songs.

I Cannot Describe all this Blood

How can I become an adult while running towards you,
Drunk a little bit, unable to describe all this blood
Even in an evil life?
Your body, which is excessively written, has the strangeness of little tricks,
The aura of the Arabian nights.

The Fertile Crescent is a book whose cover is ripped.

A Spartan Wedding

Once, on the bridge of the Orontes River,
There, where horses bath as if they are going to a Spartan wedding,
many pieces of clothes hang on trees,
And boys swim in the green waters
With the pieces of bread, sweet, and laughter.

In the evening one of them will go on a sedan chair,
The color of his body reflects the river.

Each Day that passes

Each day that passes
Is a sigh in front of your closed door,
Your mouth, which trembles, fascinates the men,
who are going to war,
While all night I turn to your face
As if I were 17 years old.

The City of the Sun’s God

In the city of the sun’s god
Hands in the streets draw god, sad as the sons of villages,
who wait for clouds to come on the backs of the sheep.

The great mother sleeps bare-headed
Her body is the Eucharist
Her body, which suffers.

The Trees of God

The mobs have no sense of honor,
They do not know your name that the horses take to the wilderness,
While sons of violence captivate you, and spray perfume on you.
No one pays attention to the trees of God
that grow out of blood.

I want to dream of you slowly

Syria, I miss you a lot,
Put your long war in the shadow of a tree,
I want to dream of you slowly
Without shedding one tear.

The Odyssey

To Hazim al-Azmah

This summer
The polar star stumbles over mount Qassioun like pears.

The beautiful woman, who
Was sitting there on a chair, was unable
To make me forget the face of Damascus from
A distance, which is not so far,
While you read about invaders and Borges’s labyrinth
And the wandering saints.


The bird, which we lost
On the edges of the prairies and cliffs.

Akram Alkatreb was born in 1966 in Salamiah, an ancient city near Hama, in western Syria. Salamiah is known in the Arab world as the "city of poets," because in almost every household there lives a poet or two. Alkatreb published four collections of poetry in Arabic and is a leading figure in what critics have called the “new wave” of Syrian poetry. Alkatreb has been living in United States since 2001.

Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet whose poems and translations have appeared in 5 a.m., Meridian, Harpur Palate, Word Riot, The Red Wheelbarrow, Green Mountains Review, and many others. A two-time Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada) and The System (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand). More at http://cserea.tumblr.com/.

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