Before Aspirin
Think of pain
As Michelangelo thinks of the rock’s suffering
Think of pain.
Think of the boredom of the worm, the soil’s virgin
Naked and helpless
Creeping into the tunnel of its despair.
Think of the plants’ sorrows
Of what the bird endures
Of what the seeds bear
And of what the severed branch dreams.
Think of the snail’s headache:
(Have you ever thought of a snail suffering?)
Think of the shy calf
Of her wounded cry
Flowing on the bed of her first motherhood.
Think of the virgin calf, under her scale’s death,
Squeezing the air with her eyes
And pleading for the compassion of her brother, the butcher
Think of pain.
. . .
. . .

Think of the noises of pain before they turn into an idea
Of the music’s sighs before they turn into a wedding song
Think of the dry tears of the dead soldier’s mother
Crying before history’s camera:
“I am proud of his death.”
Think    of    pain.

I do not say to you: cry
I do not invite you to a mass of pity
I do not beg you: pray for this or that
But only think
Think as hard as possible
Think as deep as possible
Think that you are the snail, the bird,
the woman, and the severed branch
Even more: be, yourself, this and that and more
Think that you are the one who is suffering
And that – perhaps because of shyness –
you cannot say: “I suffer.”
And that you – the helpless – as you plead in secret
you are pleading for walls and people and icons
which cannot cure pain
Think of “you” and of pain
And be aware: pain is not just an idea
Pain is the matter
Pain is the memory of elements.
. . .

Think and believe in what you think of
For, how could anyone know?
Perhaps the air is the cry of the bird’s wound
Perhaps darkness is the rock’s gasps
And the green is the tear of the plant’s heart
. . .

And do not ask for the help of anyone, any thing
Your cry cannot be heard
And your hand’s wave cannot be seen
The cry of pain is silence
Think pain.
. . .
. . .

Think of (before aspirin)
The time when people were dreaming life with their teeth
And curing the pains of death with cries of desperate hearts:
Before aspirin
Before languages and letters and rituals
Before the major questions and the major religions
Before “help me” and “save me”
and before “lull with your compassion my heart’s agony”
Before aspirin
Before fire and drums and flags
And the bottles of dying sailors
Floating over the oceans of death.
Think of the nightmares of those times
And the cries of those people
Think of the suffering of weak, helpless, puzzled, dumb creatures
Think of this and that
Of the pain of this and that,
Not like someone taking part in a banquet of regret or pity
But like some one suffering on behalf of all mankind.

Think of pain
And you will discover the official language of your sad ancestor:

Poets’s Note: Read by Asad Jaber at the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam, June 2011

© 2005, Nazih Abou Afach
From: Dhakirat Al-‘Anaasir (Memory of the Elements)
Publisher: Al-Mada Publishing House, Damascus, 2005
© Translation: 2011, Abed Ismael
Publisher: First published on PIW, 2011


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