Birth (Al-Maulid)

Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Majdhoub (1921-1982)

 

Hand on the Prophet, God
Help and support me with him
who speaks for the people
on Judgment Day —
with him who drinks pure water
from al-Kauthar, Paradise river.

On the square’s other side
clear light spreads
a rainbow of hope and joy,
a spring flowing through
the darkness of night,
dance driving souls here
slowly one moment,
another faster than breath!

Here a girl dark as
the shadows her veil draws
sways on young hips
shyly, modestly, possibly
saying hello, calling you
with the fringe of her thaub
In chains, she is free,
in harmony, she is chaos.

But see there,
that pretty Maulid candy doll
vendors hawk, that princess
robed in hue of every color
A little thing, but how pretty!
Braced there on her throne
in the carnival high above
islands of sweets,
that seem to the eye
mythical treasures of imaginary pearls.

Though she does not
her downcast eyes speak!
Children turn around her,
dark eyes glinting rainbows
beam their hopes for her,
joyfully misted in tears.
God! How their poverty wastes them!
The tiny children who come here
on Your Prophet’s Birthday,
longing for joy, but went home,
taste of dust in their mouths.
Weep for the mother
who’d give them stars
if they asked! Yes,
weep for her:
she carries nights without sleep
all through the brightness of the day.
God! You sent an orphan child
into the world to stand up
for the right, for what is just.
He was kind to us,
we remember him tonight.
Aren’t we here to honor in mind
all those without a thing in the world?
In the people’s market on the other side
of the square there’s trumpet and drum
shouting up hunger and its cure,
a tiny kingdom revolving
around its famous kettle of stew
which grabs our eyes
and steals away thought:
and why not? tell me,
pleasure of the night
mistress of attraction?
From where he stands
the stall-owner looks around,
a barker, a pitchman,
at the huge crowd
sniffing up the meat smoke
whirling from his fiery grill:
O! a flame that found
none of us disobedient when it
called us to the dinner
it laid in our thoughts.

All around king chef
stately braziers fumed,
putting up with skewers
strung with meat cubes,
fat and dripping.
It was a kitchen
we’d entered
busier, noisier
than a prince’s court,
its substantial owner
so full of good wit
one circle of diners
after another visited him.
We ate and were at peace,
we drank and felt so full
eating and drinking
no longer made sense.
Then we left and walked,
sleep dragging at our heels
if only we felt like this always,
how we'd thank fate!
And so the night went by;
bed called me and I obeyed,
leaving feasting behind,
and the thousands who hoped
for life’s full food:
but no rains came,
each soul faint,
thirsty in the dust.

Echo recalled distant drums
like a crying child
all alone at night.
A snatch of song flew into my ear,
in the darkness already signifying
new dawn on the horizon,
new promises coming true tomorrow!
In my Muslim land, God,
we have returned to You;
depending, O my God, solely on You,
we remember tonight the Chosen Guide
who filled our spirit
with his purity and patience.
Hand on the Prophet, God,
look not upon my sins
but help me to greater repentance!

 

The poem is excerpted from “Birth” (Al-Maulid), by Sudanese poet Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Majdhoub. Translated by Salma Khadra Jayyusi and Charles Doria in Modern Arabic Poetry, an anthology edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi (Columbia University Press, 1987). Reprinted by permission.

How to cite this article:

"Birth (Al-Maulid)," Middle East Report 153 (July/August 1988).
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