Tell Me the Distance: Benaissa Bouhmala

April 11, 2017


We are to thank our contributing authors, Lana Derkač and Davor Šalat who at Kuala Lumpur World Poetry Reading met Benaissa Bouhmala, a contemporary Moroccan writer, and thought his work can add to the context of the world literature ZiN Daily offers. Lana and Davor translated Bouhmala into Croatian (translation published in the magazine Kolo) from English. The three poems we’re presenting here have originally been written in Arabic and translated into English by the author’s son, Mohammed Bouhmala. As Lana Derkač writes, Bouhmala connects the mythologies and fetishes of the 21st century by juxtaposing the painful divide between dreams and reality.





Benaissa Bouhmala was born 1951 in Meknes in Morocco. He is a university professor teaching contemporary Arabic poetry and criticism and contemporary Moroccan literature at the Moulay Ismail Univeristy in Meknes. He is a poet, writer, critic and translator. 



Biography of Stones


If only the noble man is an encapsulated stone over which events pass by.

                                                                                 -- Tamim Ibn Moukbil, a Classical Arab poet.

Wise men going…
Fools coming…
Lovers going…
Brutes coming…
Soldiers going…
Poets coming… 


A stone murmuring…
A stone seeing…
A stone smiling…
A stone recalling…


Emperors going…
Lay people coming…
Democrats going…
Fascists coming…
Riches going…
Bankrupts coming…


A stone playing…
A stone dreaming…
A stone yawning…
A stone sleeps and wakes up…


And there in the heights a flock of crystal pigeons
Disintegrate in the chaos of galaxies.




Obama’s Grandmother


Her right hand, coarse, burned, on her scarlet thin bred
And the left one on her dark eyes hiding the lights of cameras 
A woman from the eve of times
Her flavor is the one of the land which gave birth to her


From a broken radio explodes the loud voice of Miriam Makeba 
And in silver horizon appear the shadows of caravans taking exhausted slaves to the sea of non-return
On a broken chair sits her old friend
The handsome Hemingway lights, smiling, his priceless legendary pipe
And asks her in his familiar tender way about health and time


He gets news about his royal mistress whom he left one night under the ebony 
His experienced Maasaï guide
The Mau Mau children who excel the dialect from the nudity of the Savanna
The pregnant giraffe
And troops of Rhino playing joyfully


Her right hand, coarse, burned, on her scarlet thin bred
And the left one on her dark eyes hiding the lights of cameras 
A woman tempered with the tender nature of Jurassic equatorial forests
Her beauty is from the beauty of the land that gave birth to her


From an old teller tongue, pour far dates and glories
While a peasant’s son going to appearing islands of the far desert-like water of the Earth
Carrying a box filled with his mother’s bred and her sad blessings


By the sky my old friend Ernest…
Do you have news about a half-breed grandson blessed by the gods?
About a thin Swahili boy with the aura of the Kilimanjaro 
About a black salt chanted by Lorca  
About shackles that have so long hurt the hands of Angela Davis


By the sky my old friend Ernest…
Can you tell me the distance
Between the stories of the old teller and CNN news broadcasts
Between Harlem and the Congress
Between the loud voice of Miriam Makeba
And a white judge’s reading of the constitutional oath
Between love and history
Between America and its dream



Agamemnon Drinks Coca-Cola in Atlanta


Just coming back from Universal Studios
Having performed a revised version of the movie Troy
Did not have in mind that Cecile de Mill does not have enough cash
To pay him his salary, a few dollars...


But it is the beautiful America… and here is the Canadian Herbert Marshall McLauhan
Knowing about the King-god being in the land of dreams
Invited him, to a friendly meeting at an Atlanta café
Once his old Greek pride raised in him 
So he passed by the nearest scrap dealer who should 
Throw him handful dollars for his sward and armor


Oh gods of the Olympus… who cannot be duped
Oh Zeus… Poseidon… Hades… Athena… Apollo…
For handful dollars I spent half of my life under the walls of Troy
Brothers of race… blood… and the immense pain
Oh Menelaus… Ulysses… Achill… Ajax  
Was Hélène just a Hollywoodian lie?


Between two drinks of Coca-Cola
His tired eyes were attacked by the shapes of blondes of the Amazon race
While Herbert Marshall McLauhan was offering him a small miniature of his planetary village
Explaining the benefits of democracy, economy of the market…
The relation between Wall Street and the famine in Africa
Between Internet and the HIV disease
Explaining the marriage between politics and sports
Business and Marathon…
Between two drinks the King-god was looking at red cotton blossoms caught by the tender hands of Scarlett 
From afar resonate waves of the chants of slaves singing sad Blues rhythms.
Next to the café his exhausted ears were attacked by the American hymn 
While in the TV screen in front of him there was the crowning of a blond boy with a gold medal
And through the café’s window there was an ambulance passing by rapidly taking a Greek athlete who fell just meters from the finish line.





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