Saturday Poem

Chinese Magic

Before my morning exercise
I took to stealing a glance
at the wise man sitting cross-legged
(in his painting done in Chinese ink)
near the door of the room.

When I return, exhausted, an hour later
I take three or four cookies out of the package
and prepare a cup of tea with milk,
which I drink in peace
with the first—and last—
cigarette of the morning.

The wise man of the painting,
which bears one of the Chinese Emperor’s red seals,
is not content with stealing glances,
and stares right at me through the smoke
with his two piercing eyes.
I’m so embarrassed that I don’t see his hand
as it reaches, stealthily, from the painting
to open the shutters:
a small bird from the neighbor’s garden
lands on the table
and steals some crumbs
as soon as I leave to water my plants.

The neighbors’ bird and I are thieves no longer.
We’re friends now, so steeped
in this wisdom
that one of us, this morning,
is writing a poem
while the other flaps its wings
in front of the painting on the wall—
in twin gratitude to our master,
the wise man of the painting.

by Mohamed Al-Harthy
Back to Writing with a Pencil
publisher: Dar al-Inteishar al-Arabi, Beirut, 2013
translation (original here): 2014, Kareem James Abu-Zeid