The Old Man

June 10, 2021
A bronze statuary of a man
Photo by NCinDC / Flickr

He said:

Why must they destroy and destroy again?

Why must they forget my face my gestures my voice?

Why must they believe in my absence even as I stand in front of them?

Why must they erase my wounds and toss my tears to the dogs?

Why must they forget that I am a man just like them?

Having utterly dispossessed me, they still think brutality remains their best ally

I am an old man who took an oath to build
And build again
When my strength has departed me

I took an oath
To build
On the faces of the missing
On their foreheads
With their tears
On a field of ruins

I always sit
On this stone
When I tire of walking
When all around me dead voices and tears echo

I sit on this stone where every night
Memory’s fingers draw a new house for me

I remember
A door slamming
A fleeting step in my heart
A shaft of moonlight in the tree’s branches

We left
To join the wanderers
On a long road
Under a dark sky
I did not know that a child’s stubborn soul
Could make this instant last forever, undying

He added:

No God built the world to honor the mighty

How many heroes have fallen off their pedestals?
How many tears will have to be shed
Before reason rediscovers reason?

Today’s vanquished might be tomorrow’s victors
Time’s cynicism has no equal
The order of days is an open sequence

Then he said:

Either light exhilarates the watchful heart
That heeds its guidance
Or does not exist

But who will listen to an old man, a vagabond carrying a peaceful and brotherly sky on a long, tortuous, and hopeless road?

Translation from the French

Born in Taza, Morocco, Kebir Ammi currently lives in Paris. A novelist, essayist, and playwright, he is the author, notably, of Le Ciel sans détours, Les Vertus immorales, and Mardochée, all published by Gallimard. His latest novel, Ben Aïcha, published by Mémoire d’encrier (Montreal, 2019), was reviewed in the Winter 2020 issue of WLT.

Alice-Catherine Carls is Tom Elam Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Martin. An internationally published diplomatic and cultural historian of twentieth-century Europe, she is also a translator and literary critic. She serves on several editorial boards and commissions in the United States and abroad.

Daniel Simon is a poet, essayist, translator, and WLT’s assistant director and editor in chief. His most recent edited collection, Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (2020), was nominated for a 2020 Foreword INDIES Award.