Two Poems by Abdellatif Laâbi

Translated by Pierre Joris


The cup is full
And here are the ingredients:
At the bottom a bit of despair
giving life
that after-taste of bitterness
by the true connoisseurs
One third blood
still warm
guaranteed human
cheaper than tap water
One third tears
sweet salted
having been wept
by the gentlest eyes
Two fingers of vintage
kept cool
at a constant ferocity
A peel of hot pepper
lighting up the mouth
and a cloud
of black anger
All of it
sans snacks
& to drink
bottoms up
absolutely alone
in the face of disaster


Like an ox
refusing to wear blinders
I pull the plough of hope
The earth to be ploughed
has become truly hard
The shears don’t resist
I need two or three
to cut a single furrow

Like an ox
I pull the plough of hope
with all my energy
and spite
I no longer ask myself the questions
since when and why
I pull
because I cannot
turn back
cannot leave dormant
the field fate gave me
a long time ago
to plant my armful of dreams

Like an ox
I pull the plough of hope
I have whitened under the harness
My shoulders, my back, my knees are in pain
in even more pain is
my soul
But I cannot stop
We oxen
have no right to holidays
even less to retirement
we have to pull without raising the head
or losing ourselves in reflections
until we fall
not to get up again

Like an ox
I pull the plough of hope
It hasn’t escaped me
that the age we live in is dark
that the planet’s equilibrium
is about to break down
and that madmen
even madder
than those the history books speak of
are here and there
taking the reins of power
that killers
wearing the armbands of life-guards
move among us

Like an ox
I pull the plough of hope
and I still refuse
to wear blinders
I do see that the fertile seed
I hope to see sewn after my labor
is becoming rare
when it hasn’t been tampered with
and monopolized by the merchants
of false hopes
like any ox that respects itself
I am single-minded
and I continue to dig
without complaining

I feel a presence
at my side
and on my spine
the caress of a helping hand
I hear an inhabited bountiful voice
murmur to me: Courage, brother
one more little effort
We have to finish the task!
And no matter how much of an ox I am
it moves me to tears
And so I pull
and will continue to pull
until night
the big night
invades my consciousness.

These poems appear in The Lifted Brow #35. Get your copy here.

Abdellatif Laâbi is an acclaimed Moroccan poet, novelist and playwright. Among other awards, he was the recipient of the Prix Goncourt de la Poésie in 2009.