Poems from The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, (Princeton University Press).
Translated from the Arabic by Peter Cole

Peter Cole is the recipient of a 2004 PEN Translation Fund Award for The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain (Princeton University Press).

That Day While I Had Him

That day while I had him on my knees
     he saw himself there in my eyes and tried
to trick me.  He kissed them ever so lightly—
           kissing himself, not me. . . .

To Ibn Al-Mu’allim

Gently, my hard-hearted, slender one,              
be gentle with me and I’ll bow before you.               
I’ve ravished you only in looking—                          
my heart is pure, but not my eyes:
They’d gather from your features    
the roses and lilies mingled there.              
I’d lift the fire from your cheeks    
to put out fire with fire,
and then when I was thirsty,      
it’s there I’d look for water.     
I’d savor the lip that glows like ruby—                                       
like coals in the tongs of my jaws. 
My life hangs by scarlet threads;   
my death is now concealed in dusk . . . 
I find that nights have no end,    
where once no dark divided my days:    
For Time then was clay in my hands   
and Fortune— the potter’s wheel.    

A Dove in the Distance

A dove in the distance fluttered,
     flitting through the forest—
          unable to recover
she flew up, flustered, hovering,
     circling round her lover.      
          She’d thought the thousand    
years to the Time of the End
     about to come, but was         
          confounded in her designs,
and tormented by her lover,
     over the years was parted
          from Him, her soul descending
bared to the world below.
     She vowed never again
          to mention His name, but deep
within her heart it held,
     as though a fire burning. 
          Why be like her foes?
Her bill opens wide     
     toward the latter rain
          of your salvation; her soul
within her faith is firm,     
     and she does not despair,
          whether she is honored
through His name or whether
     in disdain brought low.
Let God, our Lord, come
     and not be still:  Around Him   
           storms of fire flame.