The Deluge

Translated from Arabic by Marilyn Hacker


You are made of arsenic, Sir.
I open my mouth every morning and swallow a piece of you,
yet you remain.
I said, A day will come when I will be savage
and devour you like prey.
So inhale, relax—
all the world’s remedies will not grant me
that chance,
not the seas’ lichen nor the ancestors’ incense.
And the world’s religions?
Have I really forgotten you?
Forgotten your mules and your whips,
forgotten that vast slaughterhouse,
that history
they say stands above me?
I read about your grandeur, and whips drove back the pages,
I nourished your treasures with my flesh and bones
and you were not satisfied.
My night is night and my lamps grown thin,
I said,
I seize the holy oils
to celebrate our vision,
since you mount your steed and ride into the desert.



،إنّك من الزّرنيخ يا سيّدي
أفتح فمي كلَّ صباح وأبتلعُ جزءاً منك
.ولم تنته 
قلت سيأتي يوم أتوحّش فيه
.ثم أستريح
جميع أدوية العالم لن تمنحني
،تلك الفرصة
.لا أشنة البحار ولا بخور الأولياء
وأديان العالم؟ 
هل نسيتك حقاً؟
،نسيت بغالك وسياطك
نسيت ذلك المسلخ العظيم
الذي يقال له شرفاتي؟
قرأت مجدك، وبسياط رُدّت الصفحات
،أطعمتُ كنوزك لحمي وعظمي
.فلم تشبع
.وليلي ليل، ومصابيحي عجفاء 
أنهب الزيوت المقدّسة
علها تعيد أبصارنا
.لكنك امتطيت جوادك وطرت إلى الصحراء

Sania Saleh was a Syrian poet born in 1935 in the city of Musayaf in the province of Hama, author of three collections of poetry and one of short stories, as well as a posthumously published Collected Poems. She studied at Damascus University, and married the poet Mohammed al-Maghout, whom she met through poet Adonis in Beirut, himself married to her sister, Khalida Saïd. They had two daughters. Sania Saleh died of cancer in Paris in 1986. The Egyptian poet Iman Mersal has an essay on her work that can be read online here.
Marilyn Hacker is the author of fourteen books of poems, including Blazons (2019) and A Stranger’s Mirror (2015), a collaborative book, Diaspo/Renga, written with Deema K. Shehabi (2014) and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (2010). Her translations of French and Francophone poets include Samira Negrouche’s The Olive Trees’ Jazz (2020) and Claire Malroux’s Daybreak (2020). A Different Distance, a collaboration with Karthika Naïr, will be published in December 2021.