Chosen and translated from the Arabic by Tahseen al-Khateeb, with editing by Linh Dinh
YOUSEF AL-KHAL (Lebanon, 1917-1987) was a poet, critic, playwright, journalist and translator. He is the author of more than eight books, among which are: Liberty (1944), Herodia (1955), The Deserted Well (1958), Modernity in Poetry (1978), and The Second Birth (1981). He is also the translator of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" (1958), Selected Poems by Robert Frost (1958) and the anthology, The Divan of American Poetry.
Prayer in the Temple
I  The stone speaks. It becomes wine, becomes bread, it becomes.
The stone is a sky, blessed is he who has wings.
O how I love you tonight.
I embrace you like this for the first time. I undress in you, for the first time I am this stone-sky.
Your eyes, your whole body is a child swimming. I love the child and the water; the water and the child.
And in this wasteland, with but a stone to get along with, which bolsters and comforts despite its hardness.
Let this moment be for the two of us. The stone is a sky and we are its wings.
II  When I awake, the river awakes and flows and fills the plain. I'll hoist the day's mast. Alone. The companion I wait for has not come.
When I awake light sits before me. Why don't you rise up O foolish wound and carry your bed and walk?
The walls are vanishing. The air flutters its eyes. The feet are stomping the street's waist. There's no whispering in the light. The only password is to scream.
When I awake, my love awakes with me.
III  My legs are of reed, I'll find myself a cane.
I found it: a thread of blond silk.
Now I'll walk to the end of the earth. In the plain, in the mountain. In the night. In the day. I'll walk like a dream fulfilled by wakefulness.
My love is with me. My whole body is with me. My God is with me. Rise up O destiny and make room for me.
IV  From afar my oak shades me and takes care of me. Stretches out its arms to me. In its branches a nest with two sparrows.
Here I am singing. In the temple's courtyard an apple tree, its fruits are oil for my throat.
I'm crazy about my oak. For it I am here. For it I am singing.
During the day I dream of my shadow, and in the night I embrace it and slumber.
I'll raise the sun on my wings. I'll nail it down, so it won't move. The oak's shadow is my only bliss.
V  Tonight, I climbed the ivory towers. Your blue hair is my ladder.
Ah, and on your altar I offer sacrifices: a pair of doves, and an ewe fattened to be sacrificed. And here I am ascending the slope with my only child. The wounds of joy scream, my days are as silent as a hand.
At dawn, I will shepherd my sheep, and, in the evening, I will sing to them the songs of return.
Let me now scream.
My body departs me. Leaves me like a stranger, like a knight I've never seen.
VI  Your eyes are two creeks beckoning. How sweet is your child-mouth. Your tongue makes the body, and your panting gives the breath of life.
Ah, what a god you are. Your paradise is not leading astray. All its fruits are for me. And I am its first man.
Embrace me O felicity. On your body I steer my boat. Its oars are of eternal desire.
Let the tempest blow as much as it desires.
I am an ancient mariner and my boat is a cedar of love.
Embrace me O my little god. Close your horizons on me. Love me more than love. My history is a deep, bottomless wound.
VII  Don't shut your dress like this. Let it enter. Let it ascend. Your breasts are two summits. Their descending is tempting, opening the dreams of the body.
In your garden, I'll plant a stem of rose.
And if I lived until autumn, I'll pull down the hedge of boxthorn and erect one of wind and light.
Let's be happy today.
For a long time my tongue didn't swarm and crawl around honey. My nails are still blunt.
Stand naked opposite me and I will show you the keys of life.
O let it enter!
The light of life is small. Its presence is an eternity of posterity.
VIII  The window by your bed is stuck in the cloud. Do you open it, like this, and disappear?
Who sets the table today, spreads the cloth of happiness, embraces my solitude in the shadow and protects me from the blackness-of-the-face?
My presence is a wave of mystery your strange body unfolds.
Neither odalisques in my ships nor slaves. Nor pines. Nor jewelry of glass and stones.
In my ships a word and one little deed.
And here is the city, surrendered. Its walls begin to fall down.
And I am like July. My blood is a salvation from drought, and my body a feast for lovers.
We are all hungry for the body, and thirsty for the juices of the soul.