Featured Poem

A Light In Water

            Bill Viola sequence

            (Innumerable Attempts To Reach Eternity) 

The simple but impossible method of achieving immortality is to stop breathing, then to stay alive without breath. 

The dreamers are sleepers fully dressed under the water. Bubbles are a sign of life as of the body’s decay. We can’t be sure which. They sleep on the stage and their hands don’t move, and the waves delude you into thinking that their fingers stir in weak and final motions. 

An illuminated column writhes in deep waters, a young man’s plunge as a comet swallowed by a whirlpool; we were in front of those waters and he didn’t see us standing there, behind us the great conflagration. Bubbles, stars come up from the depths, were merging together, increasing in size as they surfaced towards us. We all are black shadows in this great night, unless the huge fire be damped down. No one will see us as long as such conflagration is behind us and no one will see us if we are inside it.

Did we go far or get close or will we melt soon? We heard the sea’s roar in the desert, our faces were touched by hot air blowing through the windows of the cars we were crammed into.

Immaculate brightness dazzled our eyes. Dry waves ascended like transparent tongues above flames beneath a burning sun. So this is a mirage! I love it neither as symbol or metaphor but as a phenomenon. I delight in being deluded by my eyes. 


            (The Painting) 

Among the body-parts, after death, the hand is what most resembles its bones. 

You are not a documentary film. You are a painting. No events are happening here so don’t expect anything. Inside the painting there is another painting and a faint ray of light passes through that frame to fall on a solitary book whose letters are tiny and wide open as your lungs. The same ray lights the knitting needle inserted by a woman into a skein of wool. A spider’s thread shines on a potted cactus; there’s no escaping fragility, there must be a breeze for you to see such tenderness in a thin thread that summarizes your destiny.

Very slowly the painting moves from screen to screen. The changes are slight. On the first screen the woman who disappeared is sleeping naked, that candles might be lit behind your eyes on another screen. Had you slowed down you would have seen all of this. Don’t rush things. Don’t be the one on whom slowness is forced, don’t be the convalescent or the old man. Slow down exactly when you might be hurrying off. Put on your clothes without haste. Do everything in slowness. Perhaps you will find some sort of solution or hope. 

The painting is still hanging on the same wall, and if you stretch your hand out towards the woman asleep inside there, you will see a hand slowly opening its fingers underwater.


            (The Screens) 

Between the two screens there’s a barrier that’s like a threshold between the mirror and the world. On each screen a figure is standing, holding himself together, breath-stopped in front of a dark liquid, then the man in the red singlet begins to cry, and after him the woman with the blue singlet starts crying too. Are they runners, wanting to reach genuine tiredness after long exertion, the tiredness of the body that silences the tinnitus of death? You will not recognise a man sobbing in his solitariness. First you see the reflection of his face distorted by his tears in the pitch dark of water, then you see how these tears melt his face. No sounds are audible. You are watching the strangled weeping of two people each the shadow of the other, a man and a woman exchanging roles, each entering the black mirror only to leave it the next time round.

Every face is a reversed mask placed on water. The nose and the mouth are open but no one can breathe easily. Gasped-out, trapped sighs are blown into the water: we can see bubbles but can’t hear the bubbling, and the gap between water and air is as narrow as that between life and death, a barrier of two centimetres. We will always see someone crying, standing surrendering themselves before water. 


            (The Jump) 

We saw him in the distance, naked. When he came close to us we found that he’d dressed on the way. How that happened when the land is so open we don’t know. A man unknown to us, he has remained here, whereas his physical movements were taking place in parallel times. He stood for a long while at the edge of the water without throwing himself in; he remained standing there lowering his head and closing his eyes. But when he did jump his leap was incomplete. He stayed held in mid-air as if transformed into an image of a world suspended above water, whereas ripplings were wrinkling its surface. This water on the earth, inside a square stone frame, is not a mirror; but a painting more ancient than us.

At this moment, the man is suspended in mid-air like a diver or a foetus, his body a ball, and nothing is holding him in place; around him small leaves and fruits are dropping from the beaks of birds that are ying above him, though we cannot see them. Maybe a sparrow is feeding its young a large butterfly whose wings are crumbling in its beak and the dust of the wings settles on the water’s face and wrinkles slightly there. 

Slow down. Had you looked longer you would see. Above the water it was night with a half moon and just a few stars, but high high up the air still had the light of day. Immeasurable time had passed through this stillness, before a weeping willow covered a man who tried to jump. Was he thinking to swim, or of death? We don’t know. We don’t know the depth of anything we see. In this quiet rustling, if you come upon thick leaves and branches that touch the water, try to look for the openings: there’s someone we don’t see, like this man who tried to jump; like a hand stretched out to a drowning man, his shadow trembling over the face of the water, and little by little it entirely vanished. What remained were the soil, the water and the trees.

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About the translation:
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Golan Haji
Stephen Watts
Original language:
2016 Number 1 - SOLD OUT - The Great Flight

About the author

Original poet

Golan Haji

GOLAN HAJI is a Syrian Kurdish poet and translator who currently lives in France. His most recent poetry collection Autumn Her...

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Stephen Watts


Stephen Watts

STEPHEN WATTS is a poet, translator and long-time contributor to MPT. He has recently co-translated Golan Haji’s A Tree Whose...

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