by Zakaria Tamer, translated from the arabic by Marilyn Hacker
I saw an airplane in the sky. It stayed there for a few seconds, and then it disappeared. I said to my father, “One day I’ll learn how to fly an airplane!”
My father laughed, and he said, “Since you make our spirits fly every day, I wouldn’t find it strange if you could fly an airplane without lessons!”
I said to my father, “The airplane is so small. How do they make it bigger so that the pilot can go in?”
My father said, “The airplane is as big as a house, and there are seats in it, and toilets.”
I was silent for a few moments, thinking, and then I asked my father, “How does an airplane fly?”
My father said, “With gasoline.”
I said, “Cars run on gasoline too, so why can’t they fly?”
My father called my mother for help, to rescue him from my questions.
My mother arrived as fast as she could. She laughed when she saw our serious faces, and she said to me, “Your father is tired, he wants to rest, and today is the only day he can rest, since he doesn’t go to work.”
I looked at my father stretched out on the sofa. His eyes were closed, and his face was wrinkled. And I remembered a story my grandmother told me one night: the tale of a poor man who found a magic bowl and hid it. He could ask it for anything he wanted, and when he lifted the lid, he’d find what he asked for in the bowl.
I’ll find that bowl, and I’ll ask it for gold, which I’ll give to my father, so that he doesn’t go to work every morning, and he’ll stay at home and answer all my questions.
I’ll ask for gold, and I’ll buy dresses for my mother to make her even more beautiful, and books for my brother, and for my cat I’ll buy tender meat for her to eat and satisfy her gluttonous appetite.
I’ll ask for gold, and I’ll buy a bicycle.
My father stretched, then he yawned noisily and got off the couch. He stood up, and he said to me, “Put on your shoes. Come for a little walk with me.
We left the house together to walk under the blue sky and golden sun. Two men with nothing else to do, taking a stroll.
We arrived in a square full of commotion. People were pushing each other to see a gallows surrounded by policemen, where a hanged man was swinging. I asked my father why they had hanged him, and he said that the man had murdered a whole family: a man, a woman, and four children.
The face of the hanged man was blue, his tongue hung out of his mouth, and the people around him were laughing. I closed my eyes.
As we were walking, I saw a little boy standing on the sidewalk who was crying, and no one asked the reason for his tears. I closed my eyes.
And as we were walking, I saw a little girl, ten years old, who fainted. They took her to the hospital without her school bag. I closed my eyes.
And as we were walking, I saw a beggar woman sitting on the sidewalk with three little children: their faces were dirty and their hands had been cut off. I closed my eyes.
And as we were walking, I saw two men fighting, and people crowding around them, shouting and telling them to hit harder. I closed my eyes.
My father asked me, “What’s the matter, boy? Why do you have your eyes closed, like a leper trying to look at the sun?”
I said to my father that there's so much dust. I rubbed my eyes with all ten fingers, then I looked at them, and they were wet.
I grabbed my father’s strong, hard hand that could guide me back home even though I had my eyes closed.
Marilyn Hacker is known for formal poems that mix high culture and colloquial speech. She is the author of thirteen books of poems, most recently A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), an essay collection; Unauthorized Voices ( Michigan, 2010); DiaspoRenga, written collaboratively with Deema Shehabi (Holland Park Press, 2014); and sixteen translations of French and Francophone poets including books by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Habib Tengour, and Rachida Madani. Her latest book is Blazons, published by Carcanet Press in the U.K. in spring 2019. Her translations from Arabic include work by Zakaria Tamer, Golan Haji, Fadwa Suleiman, and Yasser Khanjer. Her awards include the National Book Award, the 2009 American PEN Award for poetry in translation, and the international Argana Prize for Poetry from the Beit as-Sh’ir in Morocco in 2011. She lives in Paris.