Home > Poetry > The Fence
Translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa
Published: Thu Oct 15 1998
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
AGNI 48 AGNI 56 Home Aging Nature
The Fence

His house was exposed to dust from the street.
His garden, blooming with red carnations,
was open to dogs
and strange insects,
open to cat claws.
The red carnations, when they bloomed for two days,
were a feast to the dogs
and strange insects,
a feast to cats and their claws.
Dust from the street invading the tender petals.
Salt on the flowers,
salt on hair,
salt on a moon turning in its clothes.

One day he remembered
how his grandfather built the family house.

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Saadi Youssef (1934-2021), born near Basra, Iraq, is considered one of the most important contemporary poetsin the Arab world. Following his time as a political prisoner in Iraq, he spent most of his life in exile, working as a teacher and literary journalist throughout North Africa and the Middle East. He published over forty books of poetry, two novels, a book of short stories, and several books of essays and memoir. Youssef, who spent the last two decades of his life in London, was a leading translator into Arabic of works by Walt Whitman, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Federico García Lorca, and many others. A collection of his selected poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa, was released as Without an Alphabet, Without a Face by Graywolf Press in 2002. (updated 4/2023)

Khaled Mattawa was born in Benghazi, Libya, and emigrated to the United States when he was a teenager. He later received his MFA from Indiana University, where he also taught creative writing and received the Academy of American Poets Award. His latest book of poems is Fugitive Atlas (Graywolf Press, 2020). A MacArthur Fellow, he is the William Wilhartz Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan and editor of Michigan Quarterly Review.  (updated 4/2023)
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