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  • Benaissa Bouhmala

Tell Me the Distance: Benaissa Bouhmala

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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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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