(Lebanon; translated from the Arabic by Diana Der Hovanessian and Lena Jayyusi.)
And it came to pass that the Magi, led by the Star of the East, found the Child, and fell on their knees before him.
O Magi of the East, did you continue?
Did you follow the ocean flood and
civilization to the new lands?
Did you find what God reveals himself now
again in the cave? Come. The road starts here.
The star shines here. And here again
provisions for your travel.
Let the star of the adventurous lead
you to Paris where you can try the doors
of the laboratories of thought and where
you can discard thinking for celebrations
with buffoons. And in Rome you may watch
the star shroud itself and be
extinguished by the glow of censers
swung by eager priests.
Then in London it can disappear
and lose you in a fog of coal dust and in
ciphers of commerce. And now
it is Christmas night and you have
no star, and no hope left for
finding child or cave. It is midnight
and there is no child in sight. But
what is this tightness in the chest?
A street empties below you. And you follow
the sound of sad laughter past
corridors. Your eyes move from
door to door as you ask for the cave.
And you are told how to reach a door
with a sign, “Earthly Paradise.” “A place
with no tempting serpent. And
no divine judge to cast stones.
Here roses have no thorns.
And nakedness is called purity.”
You hear, “Now take off those
borrowed faces, those horrible masks
you formed out of chameleon skins.”
“But these are our true faces.
They are not masks to put on and
peel off. We are from Beirut.
Don’t you know? We are born with
borrowed faces. We are born with
borrowed minds. We are a tragedy.
Thinking is born a whore in our markets
and spends its life inventing virginity.”
“Come on. Take off those borrowed faces.”
And you enter as those who enter
a graveyard night. A fire is lit.
And you see bodies undulating
in a dance to the tune of some
sorcerer. Suddenly the dark ceiling
becomes blue crystal hung with
chandeliers. And the decaying putrid
walls have spigots of pure wine.
And the mud of the street is gold.
The writhing bodies are purified
and no longer clay but merged
into each other as nerve, blood, heart.
“This is earthly paradise. Now pray
Heaven is on earth here.”
You kneel to worship chemistry
and the magician who fashioned
paradise from burial and grave.
Yes, worship him,
the god who reveals himself in the cave.
“God of the weary and lost,
god fleeing from the sun’s madness
and the terror of certainty, who
conceals himself in the underground
cavern in the land of civilization.”