I love this photo of Yahia Lababidi. How can you resist a man with words written all over him and a book in his hand? Egyptian-born Lababidi is a poet, aphorist, essayist and mystic. He is steeped in the traditions of Western philosophy but comes from a world where the desert reminds you constantly that you are surrounded by a vast inimical emptiness; the ancient Christian hermits used to sit in the Egyptian desert because from there you could place a toll-free call to Paradise. But it is also a world in which mysticism finds an easy partner in eroticism, the metaphors of love. This is equally true of some Western traditions but especially those with Arabic influences, for example, the fantastic love poetry of the Troubadours. It’s not much of a stretch to see that influence standing behind Don Quixote’s passionate ideal love for the non-existent Dulcinea del Toboso, the adoration that drives him through 800 pages of Cervante’s great novel. These are poems toward a future collection, poems that are often aphoristic in their turns, poems that turn often on a relationship to a self, an other, an alter ego (Pessoa is cited) or a wound. Although it may seem contradictory to say so, the mystic is a person in conversation; everything in him burns toward that conversation.
NC earlier published a selection of Yahia Lababidi’s aphorisms entitled “Flirting With Disaster.” But you will find a helpful introduction to the man in this essay “The Artist as Mystic” written by Arie Amaya-Akkermans.
Awoke, with an unseen
reel of dream film
I’d found wandering
And, now wondering
where does one develop
such unreal pictures?
“ I wasn’t meant for reality, but life came and found me.” – Fernando Pessoa
The first thing you noticed was how pale
the skin – the second, was how naked
a mess of long limbs, knees and elbows
you’d not have known what to make of it
The albino squirmed in the cruel sunlight
a thing of porcelain, as brittle and bright
grass scarcely covered the strange flesh
and birdsong masked its muffled cries
All day the dream-being remained that way
an odalisque of indeterminate sex
clearly in exquisite pain, yet alluring
and commanding an odd authority
Only when night fell did it make sense
-the androgynous specimen was male-
the way it crouched, danced and leapt
luminous in the moonlight, fearless.
He went to bed, cradling a pen
his back turned to the woman
when he awoke, she was gone
and, in her place, a giant pen.
Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. – Rumi
What unexpected turns our losses take
in winding their way back into our arms:
an absent lover returns as many others,
a nation forsaken in the shape of a new life;
poems might take the place of mothers
and friends gone come back as a wife.
If Love were not always a step ahead
how would it ensure we kept up the chase?
Master and servant
Rarely, having neglected his art
the man catches a glimpse of the artist
that cold, appraising gaze
the glint of an eye-tooth
better to turn away from the mirror
and best not to have a blade in hand.
Sometimes, he found it difficult
to dislodge the arrows
preferring to keep them there
reverberating in silence
along with his invisible wounds.
You again, of the singing wound
here again, lost and found and lost
trafficking in metaphysics and eternity
as the nearest hopes
where to, pilgrim
for the self too subtle and proud
nocturnal flower, nurtured solitude
there you go, restraining the impulse
to say it all at once
even surrounded by silence
still filled with noise
now, having stirred some thrumming
hour when the moon throws
her full-bodied light
over all, like a silver screen night
of silent films, the whirring
of the reel.
Egyptian-born, Yahia Lababidi is the author of three collections: Signposts to Elsewhere (aphorisms — 2008 Book of the Year at The Independent in the UK), Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Bellydancing (essays) and Fever Dreams (poetry). Lababidi’s work has been widely published in US and international journals as well as being translated into several languages, including: Hebrew, Slovak, Spanish, German, and Italian. A juror for the 2012 Neustadt Prize for International Literature, his latest book project is a series of ecstatic, literary dialogues with Alex Stein, titled: The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi. Here is a link to a conversation from The Artist as Mystic, where the author discusses how he began writing aphorisms (among other things)
These are terrrific poems. Concise, vulnerable, wise and heartbreaking.
The humor and the beauty of these poems make a striking combination. It’s a haunting collection and very moving. But i still smiled a lot. Thank you. How gorgeous.
Thank you, RJ & Tiara, for your sensitive reading and generous appreciation! Credit also goes to Douglas for this selection, revealing to me the pattern in my thinking.
Thanks Yahia for sharing. I enjoyed the readings during a sleepless Cairene night. I wish I could help with names for your publisher. One name came to mind: philosopher Mourad Wahba.