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from the July 2011 issue

I Call You Tunisia

I heard your voice at daybreak
Like a scarlet dawn
Giving birth in darkness
The years’ turning back
On themselves
Rocking the ebb and flow
On the shore of a sea
At once full and empty
I caught your light
Lost a thousand times in the distance
A thousand times recovered
Beyond fog
Beyond dreams
Against the drowned reefs
Your calling saved me from shipwreck

I mended the nets of your dreams
Gnawed down with use
Days without sails
Masts and oars confounded
On overgrown shores
One falls, the other rises
Nights when the wave escapes
Heavy and light from the backwash
That far-off song
Carrying memory off
Fire and flame against forgetting
Will you tell the sun not to set
On habits’ horizon
The longer the night
The less bright the awakening

I left the prison of Bordj Erroumi
The gaping wound
Ruddy as a fleshy bud
Bad blood clenched in my teeth
Returned to infamy
How the dream had lost its plumage
In the skies of your nest
I did not know how to walk your roads
From having too much loved the poppies
Growing in your ruins
I kissed June’s thistles
Pursued by the thorns’ silence
Far away barbed wire
Like a crow’s claws
In the cell where my pulse was lost
I listened alone for the key in the lock
My ear glued to any word
That crossed the wall plugged with bread
Stood in darkness subjection soiling
The pride of silences thrown to the dogs

In the half-light of oceans
At land’s end
Far from you, my country, my jailer
I listened to Handel
His "Roman Earthquake"
Like granite in the the fissure’s excess
Facing the Isle of Groix
Where Bourguiba surfaced
Full beard and piercing eyes
Where the lighthouse swept the sea
Its green signals beating the plaintive night
I didn’t know if the oboe’s melody
Pleaded with the ocean for clemency
Or if the waves striking the rocks
Were freeing the cliff from bunkers of fog.

If I were a Bach cantata
In the forest of a thousand oaks
Stone of a chapel
With no Calvary
Close to the source
Where hydrangeas
Have replaced the washerwomen
Where your steps
Caressed wild medlar trees
On shadowy paths
Bordered with blackberry bushes and ferns
I would sow your name
Pearl of days
In the spindrift fed
By gulls’ wings

It was a December of anger
Erect like a eucalyptus
Called up by integrity
I will speak of you friend of the stone-cutters
The voice of a chorus of drummers
Thousands of steps beating the winter’s rhythm
Sidi Bouzid Thala Siliana and Kasserine
Must they march again and again
Walk over the violent shadow
And vow to the steppes these songs
Grown in the gullet of your grief
In robins’ calls
Rose the promise of your glowing coals
Shamed the bayonets dropped
Thieves of life and breath

They fired live ammunition
On those who were burying their dead
Shrouded bodies beneath bodies
Recumbent dead under the living
Were they afraid of the bodies
Washed in their mothers’ tears
That they might come alive again
That their mouths would cry out
They raped the sisters
After they beat the fathers
They fired on purple shrouds
Faced with : Out of here, gang of thieves!
Earth, will you pardon
The dismal vultures
Tombs dug up by tapirs
Turned loose to sully the martyrs

I give over to you, old desert
The illustrious caravans’ thirst
As they moved across solemn fevers
With no frame to protect them from thievery
Their breasts indifferent to obloquy
Open and hospitable
Under an unmonopolized sun
Eagles come from the high plains
Radiant with abundance
Tell me, old desert
How many dunes refusing all framework
Must you overturn
To free the storm from its debt
How many years must you fatten
To lighten the sand rose
Of its glass silence

Read more from the July 2011 issue
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