Saadi Youssef

Two Poems translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa
January 24, 2024 Youssef Saadi

An Attempt at Assimilation


I told myself, why not
spend the day—a silly ritual—
walking around the duck pond.


Then I wondered: What’s the sense of doing that?
The ducks, so called, do not suit me,
and the water  running there
is not my water.


The trees (stripped naked by autumn),
do I suspect them of being date palms?


And this bird?
If it winged toward Baghdad
it would be hunted and eaten.


And these women guarding the park,
if they moved to Al-Rashid with their dogs,
they’d be taken hostage.




I really feel embarrassed
by my state of mind.


A young woman with a dog that looked
like a bird passes by:
Good morning!
Then Sabahul-khair,
I greet her in Arabic.


The bird-like dog welcomes me saying:


But the young woman, tall and proud, dragging her dog,
does not bother with my greeting,
does not care that the dog,
in his fashion,
has greeted me.
What a silly ritual!



An Attempt at Assimilation

محاولةُ اندماجٍ


قد قلتُ أمضي اليومَ (طقسٌ تافهٌ) لأطوفَ حول بُحيرةِ البطّ.
انتبهتُ: وأيُّ معنىً أن أكونَ هناكَ؟
لا البط الذي يُسْمى يناسبُني، ولا الماء الذي يجري هنالكَ، مائيَ.
الأشجارُ (عرّاها الخريفُ)
أظنُّها نخلاً؟
وهذا الطيرُ؟
لو أرخى ببغدادَ الجناحَ، لكان مأكولاً…
وهذي النسوةُ الخفِراتُ لو كُنَّ انتقلْنَ إلى “الرشيدِ” مع الكلاب، لكُنَّ بضعَ رهائنَ…
يا ويلَتي!
هذي اللحظةَ
استحيَيتُ من أمري…
مرّتْ بي فتاةٌ ذاتُ كلب يشبِهُ العصفورَ:
Good morning!
أقول لها: صباح الخير!
الكلبُ الذي يبدو كعصفورٍ يقول مُرَحِّباً بي:
صباح الخير!
Good morning!

ولكنّ الفتاةَ تسيرُ، شامخةً، تجُرُّ الكلبَ
لم تعبأْ بأن تلقى التحيّةَ…
لم تعبأْ بأنّ الكلبَ ظلَّ، على طريقتِهِ، يؤدّي لي التحيةَ…
أيُّ طقسٍ تافهٍ!


Bar de La Poste


as the hour strikes twelve in Tangier,
at high noon, that is,
I enter the bar.
(I had learned from Sargon Bolous that entering a bar before noon
is dangerous, for you will then be considered an alcoholic!).


Does anything tempt you here?
Will someone meet you here?
A bottle of red from Meknes, certainly.
Your face is in the mirror,
and the faces of women who deserted you.
Never mind!


The world spins on, wrapped in its cloak,
and the bar spins, its customers
always the same. The same dishes
served since years ago.
But Muhammad Choukri is no longer.


The Bar de la Poste lives on,
opens a door that has been narrowing with the days.
How long will the bar live on?



Bar de la Poste

حــانةُ البــريد

حين تكون الساعةُ في طنجةَ 12
أي في الظُّهرِ تماماً
أدخلُ في الحانةِ …
( كنتُ تعلّمتُ أكيداً من سركون بولص أنّ دخول الحانةِ قبل الساعةِ 12
خطِرٌ جداً . أي أنك سوف تكونُ الـمُـدْمِنَ ! )
أثمّتَ ما يُغْريكَ هنا؟
أثمّتَ مَن يلقاكَ هنا ؟
قِنّينةُ مِكناسَ الحمراءُ  … أكيداً
وجهُكَ في المِِـرآةِ ،
وجوهُ نساءٍ كُنَّ هجرْنَكَ  …
لا بأسَ !
العالَمُ يلتفُّ ، وحيداً ، بعباءتِهِ
والحانةُ تلتفُّ :
زبائنُها هُمْ    هُمْ
والأطباقُ كما كانت منذُ ســنينَ
ومحمد شُكري لم يَعُدِ …
الحانةُ باقيةٌ
تُشْـرِعُ  باباً  ظلَّ يضيقُ مع الأيامِ
هـل الحانةُ باقيةٌ ؟

Saadi Youssef (1934-2021) is considered one of the most important contemporary poets in the Arab world. He was born near Basra, Iraq. Following his experience as a political prisoner in Iraq, he has spent most of his life in exile, working as a teacher and literary journalist throughout North Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of over forty books of poetry. Youssef has also published two novels and a book of short stories, and several books of essay and memoir. Youssef, who spent the last two decades of his life in London, was a leading translator to Arabic of works by Walt Whitman, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Federico Garcia Lorca, among many others.