Two Poems

translated by James Byrne
A blunt ink and water painting of a man offering a bird's head to a large bird figure
In the Presence of the Simurg, by Ashur Etwebi

How Can You Recognize a Blue Morning?

How can you recognize a blue morning?
The sea to his right, the desert to his left.

What voices does the morning carry?
Bullets of ignorant militias.

Is it right to start blue mornings with coffee?
Begin with vodka if you can.

Then my morning is really blue.

I read fragments of Lorca this morning.
Have you tried reading Al Harith Ibn Hilleza poems?

I inherited nothing from my father except the art of disappearance.
He was a chef or a sous chef . . .

Is your cane beside you?
In a silence of doors, you only hear the knocking of your footsteps.


Ars Poetica

Standing on the stone path of childhood silence,
this is poetry.

A frail mosquito sits, exhausted and confused,
this is poetry.

A bird’s feather swings in morning’s hammock,
this is poetry.

Sand grains steal the rhythm of my feet,
this is poetry.

A dream wheels through the soul’s pendulum,
this is poetry.

Bubbles floating from the fins of a fish,
this is poetry.

A lizard’s gesture in the tilting of time,
this is poetry.

Translations from the Arabic

Read James Byrne's Translator's Note on co-translating these with the author.

Ashur Etwebi was born in 1952 in Libya. Since December 2014, he has been living in Norway after he was attacked by extremists and his house in Tripoli was burned down. He is one of Libya’s leading poets and is also an editor, translator, and painter.

Photo © Carolyn Forché

James Byrne is a poet, editor, and translator. His most recent poetry collection is Everything Broken Up Dances (Tupelo, 2015).