the subhuman and its habitat
welcome to the land of milk and honey
where figalmondapricots grow
unmetaphorically on accommodating trees
eat of them and be my guest today
I’ll pay your taxi to the first roadblock
my father waits behind the second roadblock
he’ll make you his guest of honour too
with oil bread oregano sesame
stars lie motionless upon his roof
sleep there and give him nadir’s love
the day to father is hard but essential
try to find a kid with a barrow
take donkeys or scramble on foot round the cliffs
follow the others keep telling yourself
now we are animals this is permissible
wheelchairs go bouncing through dust
back from the city where they cure the sick
diabetic with cancer in blazing sun
many are old many sick many are sweating animals
but that’s the whole idea
in the day we are sweating climbing animals
because that’s the whole idea
they beat and kick the animals to an end
that one day we will give milk and honey
one day manna will rain from human hands
if this seems insane to you habibi
just think that miles down the road
real girls and boys are sitting nervously
outside starbucks as an act of resistance
uproarious in fear of their lives
from ‘poet love’
that was in the wondrous month
of excess and of blossomings
when my chest swirled up like poppies
ribs splaying like gaudy quills
may cut loose my stingy tongue
consuming similes like fire water
deeply shamed to my poldered soul
overcoated between the raindrop and the wind
insensitive to bushes branches thorns
I caught my death of light
and rubbed it in
transparent humiliating sparkle sneezing
came upon me a miracle there I went
less would be enough to shame the most
but this was my affliction utter love
Brothers of Charity
Try it sometime. Just sit a child on your lap
a little fragile thing, the light shines through it.
Preferably blind or deaf, it has no sex
and doesn’t budge. An image of a suckling lamb.
Now take the head and gently bend it down
towards the outlet of our charity.
Shove hard if necessary, don’t be afraid.
You’re free to act. The parents aren’t around.
All faiths share this as fatal forte. Too vast
for us to grasp, they finally push on through
to where we’d always thought ourselves immune.
They say: we’re only instruments of God.
So, God, how instrumental were You in this –
an eight-year-old’s abuse and years of rape?
Ramsey Nasr (b. 1974) is a well-known actor and director and a former poet laureate of the Netherlands. He has a marked interest in the theatre and classical music, but is also politically engaged and socially critical, particularly in the sometimes controversial poetry he wrote as poet laureate. He often uses traditional forms and metre, but also writes expansive free verse. Heavenly Life, a selection of his poetry in English translation, was published by Banipal in 2010.
‘The subhuman and its habitat’ and ‘wondrous month’ are from Heavenly Life, Banipal, London, 2010.
Both were first published in slightly different versions on Poetry International Web http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poet/item/4033/6/Ramsey-Nasr
The originals are in Tussen lelie en waterstofbom, Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2009
The original of ‘Brothers of Charity’ is in Mi have een droom, Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2013.