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May our dead no longer speak to us / Our language now kneaded into other woes / with rancid stars a meager pittance / and false kingdoms rich in violent blows

By Ahmed Bouanani, translated by Emma Ramadan



In 1938 on the night I was born
this country had no more ancestors or History
It was a garbage dump where soldiers on the run
waded in grime and worshipped a deity

who, deaf-mute, twirled in the clouds
among locusts and naked angels
and drunk females done up with storms
Our houses quivered like a hanged morning

and in our alleyways of always meager dinner
the sun shamelessly kissed the spring
The cheeky children left with steps full of cheer
howling about the hunger of soldiers

I grew up unknowingly like a crazy weed
in the bed of venereal nights of Baghdad
I gathered new roles insatiably
and bit the butt of Scheherazade


I rolled my “r”s with Négritude pride
starving for cirrus clouds and aeroliths
Casablanca tousles through my spine
and in my blood papyrus ink drips

My shipwrecks like audacious blasphemies
drew tender words from love potions
and their teeth tore at the supreme toes of
infamous paradises where one dies elated

Our parties were splattered with urine and blood
Fathers suddenly suffered amnesia and drank
clandestine alcohol with the whole neighborhood
they damned us to the hell of the badly raised

Beware the insolent man who oversteps the cage
of his neighborhood. We would sodomize birds
we would sharpen our rapiers with rage
we indulged in the forbidden we were undeterred


Rachitic knights of the coffee tables
entrenched in our impasses we kept vigil
until bugles pierced the twilights
Sails and invisible paddles

carried us to the redskins the virgin and mysterious
princesses of El Dorado
and the cowboys salved with gold their souls in distress
bleeding like the hogs of Colorado

And in the morning we rediscovered immaturity
and wisdom ambered like archangel buffoons
chanting the Quran in the cemeteries
over all the rag-covered tombs

In that age our meteors shot across
a sky where peaceful God whispered
The bluish windows reflected our frocks
among the stockings and the blonde hair


and our dreams of poets and thieving maggots
became intoxicated with the horsewoman’s fragrance
when this old man fresh as a shroud in glasses
welcomed us in the early morning to his rickety palace

where mischievous flies flew us around
The Queen of Sheba all of a sudden
had a vermillion heart in the form of a crown
adorned with dew with crystal and with sun

Beyond our pre-Islamic fortifications
and heroes and the defeated penniless
faces scarred by ancient afflictions
don’t know how to mourn their now-peaceful villages

Sirens steamers and polychrome ensigns
double-locked their horizons imbued
with lemongrass and columbine where men of former times
lived on cruel courage and virtues


Like dogs wearing hatched hope on their sleeves
their tamed cadavers scattered throughout our country
cold planets bigger than our earth and its seas
and beloved tales never on their knees

We braided them like glorious bouquets
or like the quicksilver of our summer nights
All my golden tears accumulated
and my eyes saw the gardens reflected inside


My father breathed in I don’t know what space
he dressed himself in blossoms and moons
and lived like a voyager embraced
Upon his brutal death our house died too


My withered mother we called her Madame
In her gaze the firmaments were extinguished
The streets in pants forbidden to women
are the only ones open to welcome her anguish

In her tears float dead stars
swirling in the dawn of a god
with diamond wings slamming like doors
over landscapes of monochrome facades


My older brother lost his childhood in a flash
Horrible hurt sparrows fell from his hands
he closed himself like a page of a love story
that he forgets to read today as he did in the past


Crepuscular photographs in panic
of our stabbing-suckled city
we did not triumph in the Punic Wars
we were too busy playing the lottery

Faubourgs gorged with old Egyptian princes
riding on their bikes through golden republics
speckled with lice from stupid hyenas
they spit laughs in the faces of our perished


And our dead dreaming of a storm of bullets
in the darkness of their mud coffins
fashioned in haste they clung to the ancestors’ javelins
(the poor crucified in unseen paintings
bordered with cedar semicolons they strut
immobile in paradise)
We died they said
for a nice big handful
of Indochinese rice but you parasites
what have you—immersed in our shameless murders—
told your poets?
We love France and German beer
like good survivors and the widows
frail as barrels gorged with clouds and moons
but you descendants by accident born during the passing of a
train or a boat and in the bang of a gun that we
leave by an alarm clock and shoes reeking
of fatigue and other people’s wars…


May our dead no longer speak to us
Our language now kneaded into other woes
with rancid stars a meager pittance
and false kingdoms rich in violent blows


A warring childhood eyes wide open
languishes in a book of ambitious designs
oblivious to a poem of venial devotions
in which the horsewoman perfumed the false skies
In an afterword between the old women
the acrid incense of sweet death in Baghdad
and oppressive kings in atrocious marvels
amaranth Scheherazade flutters about
And us others the jackals of the Numidian deserts
infantrymen of the Protectorate depot
and the flat paradises where humid gazes
give birth to hells and angels that will never be ours
…Our sky is no longer as blue as in childhood
We have riddled with saliva our orphan dreams
and our theological horizon
swallowed like a vulgar mushroom
We have lost all our prehistoric secrets

Time smooths our volcanoes and our eyelids


The house is a blatant imposture of red bricks kneaded with herbs
and honey
On its white terrace our sweet injuries wear incredible rain-
bows around their necks like jewelry
In his wooden bed sleep future cities traced by a child in
Chinese ink
There magician friends treat our burns when our adven-
tures dressed in black and white die of desire behind the shut-


“Generation” from The Shutters. Copyright © 2018 by Touda Bouanani. Copyright © 2018 by Emma Ramadan. Used with the permission of New Directions Books.