The International Literary Quarterly

May 2009

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Eight Poems by Fawzi Karim
Translated by Michael Glover


Winter of God
In the summer, Lord, we idle, plotting our futures.
At your bidding, the seasons of spring and autumn
Are devoted to planting and harvest
In preparation for winter, your especial favourite.
Summer we remember
For the friend who shares his aloneness
   with one other,
For the neighbour’s daughter who runs naked
   beneath the flourish of the palms,
For the angel who takes the name of my mother,
And for my father, and the strength of his endurance.
Yet how futile is summer when compared to your winter!
When you teach us to remember
That the day of celebration is always the day of our doom.
When you allow us to reap the fields of experience,
   and then leave us
Because their fruits do not please you.
Now our dreams grow green beneath the mirrors
   of your sky.
The stars gleam pink – the nipples of your virgins
   in their hour of fertility.
Oh how often, Lord, do we take shelter in prayer,
Asking for memory to be erased,
For the autumn to lie as deep as our desires,
And for spring to offer its dark promise of fertility.
And yet the treachery of winter lies deeper still.
The Night Drives Its Nails 
Winter bares the tree to a solitary nest.
Rain drips through its mesh of twigs.
Snow embalms it in a wreath of soft cotton.
That nest is as heavy as
The silence which clogs my ears,
Or the smoke which weighs on my lungs.
It penetrates my dreams, where night
Is driving and driving its nails.
The Forgotten City
Late afternoon.
The houses are shaded in the lightest of pencil strokes.
Birds have flown, nests long abandoned.
Wind flourishes its whips of cold, freezing the tongue;
Echoes of footfalls; leaves falling;
Rags and tatters of newsprint.
Birds have flown, their nests long abandoned.
You too, o errant sand dweller,
Have left nothing but footprints,
Having stared at the waves too late, and for too long.
Once the sun burnt the wrist of the city.
Now it has cooled to a silver bracelet,
Worn once, now long gone, my forgotten lady.
I shut the door – rain flings into my face –
And make for the nearest bar.
I am free as any stranger in a city.
I have no kin to worm its way beneath my skin.
I am a brick in a wall,
Which will soon be added to other walls,
And then – hey presto! – a fort.
Inside my head, muffled by its hat,
I am calming the cries of some woman.
Rain douses her too. The tongue is silenced.
Two glasses, dear waiter.
One is for me.
The other is…still to come.
You will know her by her coat, of wool.
The waiter, a customary type,
Reads the mind of the addict to perfection.
Another customer waits.
He nods - and hurries away.
Night’s Scavengers
These scavengers for wood beside the Thames,
I take in their glutinous, brown, tar-like stink.
In the sieve of their thick, matted hair,
They trap all the dirt and the darkness of London.
Their exile shelters, nurtures them in silence.
I too am a scavenger,
I too am an exile ,
Looking to join them,
Born again,
A scavenger of words beside the Thames.
But their exile is deeper than mine.
I see their make-shift shelters from the rain –
Boxes, slumped against concrete walls –
And how they coil inside,
Intoxicated spirits,
Eyelids heavy with numbness.
For warmth, I squat in a phone booth, staring out.
A sparrow of ice alights.
A woman’s lips leave a promise on the glass.
My palm throbs between cheek and pillow.
The smell of weaning plugs my nostrils.
I hear the gentle swish-swish of autumn foliage.
A train on some nearby platform sighs.
A suitcase hesitates to move.
Seeing and Calling
The god I have always denied enters the house.
My father, lying in white, is in his death agonies.
My mother, sisters, brother, half-circled around Him,
   avert their eyes.
Only I have seen the god coming in.
Only I am trying not to look at him.
The god is crying, this god I have always denied.
He is full of compassion, pity.
The shadow of death hangs over the family.
Soon there will be nothing but darkness.
A void will engulf my father’s body.

We are listening.
Our sole right is to beg him.
We cannot ask the question which is always on our lips,
Yearning to be spoken.
From such frustration flows our bitterness.
Bent-backed is the god, smitten by time,
A ruined building, sole refuge now
For refugees from who knows where.
He slips away, so cautiously,
And, patiently, unseen, I follow after,
Both lost, in the way a star is lost,
through desert dust, and mirages
of water, which ever recedes from us,
and travellers who went before...
The bones repeat the voice of the winds.

Across wind-lashed spaces, the wolves howl on.

We are listening.
Our sole right is to beg him.
We cannot ask the question which is always on our lips,
Yearning to be spoken.
From such frustration flows our bitterness.
 Black Ink
The darkness of this night is greater
   than the power of a sultan.
Ink from my books, shelf upon shelf of them,
   streams down the curtains.
Every book is an overturned inkwell.
Patience, I say. Day will dawn,
And the colours begin to spread. Snatching the brush,
I strive to paint the curtains the rose of dawn,
   and the walls, green.
Now waves come washing in, blue flecked with white,
   above the shelves.
The Goalkeeper
What a Wonderful World, Louis!
Your voice, rough as the bark of a tree,
Threads through this lobby of hope.
Ablaze, like phosphor, at your words,
I glow above this book I am thumbing,
Beside the stove at which I am warming myself.
How strange is my life, my world –
One minute joyous, the next full of care,
Eyes brimming with tears – of laughter.
I am a goalkeeper,
Wary of strikers with no ball,
Seeing an infinity of blue emptiness
Between a clatter of legs.