Abdellatif Laâbi's Poem for Florence Aubenas

On 5 January 2005 Florence Aubenas, a French journalist, and her Iraqi guide Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi were abducted in Baghdad. They are still being detained by unknown captors, though 2 videos have surfaced on which Aubenas is seen forced to recite a prewritten text. A few days ago the Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi (who himself was jailed from 1972 to 1980 in Morocco for political reasons) published the following poem in a French newspaper. Here it is in my translation:

Abdellatif Laâbi

Letter to Florence Aubenas

Walled in
Your heart goes on beating
Deep in the darkness
In your heart
An eye has opened
It sees what we no longer know how to see:
The executioner’s snarl
That lies in wait in each of us
The face of innocence
Trampled underfoot by the horde
The spark of compassion that alone
Can illuminate us from the inside
The hand that opens
For tenderness to burst forth
Like a fresh spring
The sign of recognition
Before the melting of the human metals
In the prodigious act of love
The mouth without make-up
From which will flow
The words of truth so rare
The seven letters that more than speak
Of our sovereign liberty
Walled in
In their own darknesses
Your jailers camp outside time and the world
Of their humanity
They only have a vague remembrance
They have no other members
Than their weapons
No other head
Than the boiling cauldron of their hate
No other heart
Than the pumice stone used to sharpen their knives
Walled in
In their own darknesses
Your jailers don’t know what they are doing
And we forget the nights
To count only the days
Spinning in the violently lit circus
Of our insipid liberties
We think of you Florence
While hoping that an eye will open in our heart
And reveal to us
What we no longer know how to see:
Our daily gestures of small predators
That rarely don’t know themselves
The color of the lie
Spread over the whole palette of discourse
The irremediable crack in our planet
To better separate
The elected ones from the misfits
The solid web
Of the spider of indifference
That slowly encircles our faculties
The bars against which we hit our foreheads
Watching the caravan
Of our dreams go by in the distance
Walled in
Your heart continues to beat
In your heart
The eye that opened
Now sees into us
It rereads our history
Translating it into all the languages
Generous prince
It even corrects its mistakes
And cautions us
To write a new page
Inspired by the lesson of the darknesses
Finally enthroning reason and it lights
You see
It is you
Who come to rescue us!

Créteil, March 2005

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2 Responses

  1. Jehza says:

    Laâbi never ceases to amaze me. I’ve had such limited access to his work, but that small amount has left a remarkable impression.

    And this poem. Probably the best of his that I’ve read (in translation only), is devastating in so many ways. I only hope that Aubenas somehow gets to read it. Hope.

    Thank you for translating this poem and sharing it.

    -jeremy hawkins

  2. chris says:

    Thank you for this.
    I, too, hope.

    Chris Murray

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