Happy B-Day Tunisia!

It was a year ago today that the Arab Spring saw its first victory when Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following the protests that had broken out on 18 December 2010 with a people’s loud & proactive chlass, ras-le-bol, basta, enough-already! of revolutionary proportions. Here’s a poem by Tunisian poet Tahar Bekri from the forthcoming (November 2012) Poems for the Millennium IV: The University of California Book of North African Literature, edited by Habib Tengour & myself:

 

I CALL YOU TUNISIA

I.

And you live within me earth
Bow on the violin’s cheek
In the untameable sea’s neighing
The fleeting notes unwound in skeins of foam
Envying rebellious hair
Its gallop of memories
Down to that waist a mane
That could free a thousand and one riders
Season guided by the Milky Way why
Have you set my boat adrift
In absence without an anchor
Its ropes frayed by so much forgetting

 

II.

They opened at dusk
Those flowers mingled with night’s amber
Where a dream tosses restlessly
In the hive of insomnia
Its honey going from eye to eye
Nectar surprising the bees’ probes
Like a sudden shower
Sometimes the storm told you my anger
At not having been born
A pomegranate tree or a flowering orange tree
To offer you my fruits
But is it from thunder’s grumblings
That orchards are born

[…]

V.

For you I have picked
A bouquet of roses
With petals of light
Perfumes diffused without fanfare
I am the stem climbing the stake
Of your arms which console my walls
When the storks fly off will you tell
Of all the distance they crossed
I am not a summer cloud
That wanders lightly
But the heavy sky of its rainstorms
Lover of hardened autumns
The seed that rises
In blackened earth
For the best grain

( Paris-Tunis 2010)

Translated by Marilyn Hacker

 

COMMENTARY

 Born in Gabès, Tunisia, in 1951, Tahar Bekri — who writes in French & in Arabic — has lived in Paris since 1976. He has published some 20 books (poetry, essays, art books), has been translated into a number of languages (Russian, English, Italian, Spanish Turkish) with critical analysis on his work being done in various university settings. In an article in Jeune Afrique from October 1997, the critic Ridha Kéfi describes the poetry of Bekri as “all of luminous transparency, in ample murmurs and limpid melodies” evoking “vast crossings of time and space, real or imaginary, where Orient and Occident are continually reinvented.” A specialist of Maghrebi literature, he teaches at the University of Paris X in Nanterre.

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