Ashraf Fayadh: ‘A Melancholy Made of Dough’

This poem, from Instructions Within (2008), was translated by Tariq al Haydar:

A Melancholy Made of Dough

Parts of you pile one on top of another—a mixture of your blood,
sweat, remains, and discharge from your eyes.
And discharge from your eyes.
The knot of your tongue at the midway point of the ocean,
and when the sphere of the sun swims
in a preconceived orbit—

What the sidewalk never mentioned
is that you used to step on it
and present your shoes on a plate of concrete,
your feet on a plate of shoes,
your legs on a plate of your misfortune.
You tune the strings of your head to affect your foolish delight,
you bury a skull—you’d rather not bear.
You heap yourself on a slate that claims whiteness due to a fistful of flour—
and you ferment.
You swell and puff your sadness like a hot loaf
and dry.
You search for your water
Between your delicacy and your hardness
and your breaking.
and your forehead reddens
also, like a loaf!

You are stored
in the chaotic memory
of the earth, of its core
of al-Lauh al-Mahfuz on your shoulders

You grow mold, also, like a loaf!

In vain, you resist your body’s floundering atop the whitened slate
on your bed
on the sidewalks, on
reflecting and reflected surfaces
and surfaces that absorb light.
Your body always forgets that it’s a complex admixture,
that you have only the familiar look of your legs.
That you resemble a vagrant
whose features stick out among those who walk other walks.
He can neither master their walk nor speak their tongue;
has no right to walk as he pleases
or stumble or weep as he pleases.
No right to crack open the window of the soul
to renew its air and debris and mourning.
You forget that you too are
like a loaf!

You forget how your soul was mixed
at birth, since the day they ripped your placenta,
mixed, your soul
with clothes that conceal your genitals
and reveal what may be seen of them. Of you
and of women who have grown accustomed to ripping their own collars
and hanging portraits on walls.
Of boys who have trained themselves to draw on walls
and gravestones and cars in junkyards
and to march in your name, also,
like a loaf!

So your soul was mixed:
homogenized, fermented, kneaded, baked
and sold at stores that violated health codes,
forged—and used for illegal purposes,
voted on— and eaten
like a loaf.

Tariq al Haydar’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Normal School, Down & Out, Crab Orchard Review, The Cafe Irreal, The Los Angeles Review and others.