There are plenty of poems out there this February 14 for the lover or lover-in-recovery. But for those who are not yet in recovery — or don’t want to be — excerpts from Lebanese poet Yehia Jaber’s “How I Became a Suicide Bomber,” translated for the first time by Thoraya El-Rayyes:
By Yehia Jaber
Translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes
If Satan had bowed down to Adam.
Eve would not have begotten this she-devil:
Without asking permission, like a heart attack
like a falling button from the shirt of the sky
like a bulb blowing out in the corridor
water cutting out in the tap
my muse, my electric generator, decided
to dim her face at the table
and slap me with the sentence
“Our relationship is over,
let’s be friends.”
Like a shoestring snapping at a cocktail party
our relationship snapped
and my love slipped away
not a hair out of place.
Where you going
What to do with myself, crucified:
the nail of your stiletto
thrust into the core of my soul.
At the entrance, you circle round me meowing an apology
you backstabber with nine lives.
You jump from the window
vanish through the keyhole
and leave me your cat in the basket
the cat, to keep me company…
the cat, a present on Saint Valentine’s
you Saint Lucifer!
I’ll grab the cat by her tail
wave her round like a dabke dancer’s kerchief
I’ll pin her down in the bathtub
I’ll make her drown in the water, you desert
her eyes remind me of yours
I see your nine lives
And sit on the edge of the bathtub
like Clint Eastwood.
Your album is on the table
I’ll rip your photos out with wax
I’ll dip your photo in a teacup
so your face fades
and I see the milk of your eyes
floating skin in the cup.
I have not seen enough
I am not quenched
I’ll put your smiling photo beside a mouse
and take your picture together
like twins, nibbling on the wheat sack
of my beating heart.
With a scraper
I’ll peel your face from the photos
pry your colour off with nail clippers
you barbed claw
I’ve forgotten what colour you are.
I’ll open your mouth in the photo,
shove an arsenic pill through your teeth.
Die before me in the album.
“Let’s be friends” you say.
I’ll exterminate your words with insecticide.
When you step out the door, beware
I’ll cast your nights in black
I am the darkness of darkness.
When you step out the metal gate, throwing a tear at the doorkeeper
I’ll knock on our neighbour’s door
and punch him
I’ll carry my hands, screwdriver
take apart the building joint by joint
and the tenants will tumble out
like apples into the streets.
I’ll follow you
in your neighbourhood cars.
I am the essence of gunpowder
churning wrath into TNT
burying a heavy landmine
under the bed of Beirut.
I have a stable of booby-trapped stallions
and a thousand legions of masked birds
to pelt stones at the windows
of your house
of your eyes
you woman of glass.
Come back, save humankind
or I’ll become a suicide bomber.
Translators’ note: Dabke is a folk dance that is native to the Levant and is popular in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Turkey. It is a line dance that it is widely performed at weddings.
Moving Poems: A short film about Jaber
A podcast about Jaber’s work
Four poems by Jaber: “Nightmare,” “Without Philosophy,” “Greencard,” and “Without Literature”
“I am not neutral,” trans. Ashraf Osman
Thoraya El-Rayyes is a Palestinian-Canadian writer living in Amman, Jordan. Her translations of Arabic short stories have previously appeared in Saint Anne’s Review and World Literature Today.