Two Tunisian Poems

translated by Miled Faiza & Karen McNeil

A Funeral

Wash me with warm water and soap made of fresh olive oil
anoint me with amber and camphor water
with rose geranium and orange blossom water
Swaddle me with castor bean and eucalyptus leaves
soaked in hot oil
Cover my head with henna,
wrap me up with a white silk cloth,
and put me in a small wooden coffin 
then release me in the water
Don’t do anything after that but
just release a thousand arrows behind me.



I asked a gardener
He said: the plant . . . the plant of light
I asked a woodcutter
He said: the tree . . . the tree of light
I asked a farmer
He said: the flower . . . the flower of light
I asked a poet
He said: the word . . . the word of light
I asked a lover
She said: the kiss . . . the kiss of light

I asked them all
The scoundrels didn’t tell me about a leaf
that falls every day on the head of one of us
No one told me about the shiver
and the plants of the other world
where there exists the smooth stone of eternity
What kind of idiots are these people?
Their leaves fall every day on my head
while I am rocking them to their last resting place.

Translations from the Arabic 

Abdelfattah Ben Hammouda is a Tunisian poet who has published ten books of poetry. Many of his poems have been published in journals and periodicals in Arabic as well as in French and Spanish translations. He lives in Tunis, where he works as a newspaper editor and a consultant for Mayara Editions poetry series.

Miled Faiza is a Tunisian American poet and translator. He is the author of Remains of a House We Once Entered (2004) and translator of the Booker Prize–shortlisted novel Autumn, by Ali Smith (al-Kharif, 2017). He teaches Arabic at Brown University.

Karen McNeil’s literary translations have appeared in Banipal, World Literature Today, and al-Jadid. She was revising editor of the Oxford Arabic Dictionary (2014) and is currently a PhD student in Arabic at Georgetown University.