Poetry by Adam Fethi

The Glassblower
(The First Movement)

The girl asks her father: how do you write?
He was blind.

– I gaze inside myself for a long time till I perceive a hole on the page. I place a word on the hole. I blow into the word to make it a little bigger. This is how I sometimes get a poem.

– And then?

– Nothing, except that I might fall in the hole and vanish.

The Glassblower
(The Second Movement)

The girl asks her father: How do you see your way?
He was blind.

– I stray inside myself for a long time till I feel the thread of light. I put my mouth on the light. I blow inside the thread to make it bigger. This is how I sometimes get a path.

– And then?

– Nothing, except that I may go to the end of the thread and never reach my destination.

The White Graveyard

Upon aging,
elephants hear the drum of death:

dom, dom, dom

and proceed
to the elephants’ graveyard
here or there
in the abyss
where nothing is heard but the moans of ivory.

– And poets, the girl asks,
do they age?

– Yes,

But they hear
the drum of life:

dom, dom, dom

and they proceed
to the poets’ graveyard
here or there
in the abyss
where nothing is seen but

a white
on the path of elephants.

The Red Fish

Shadow in water, a girl dreams to become a fish.

Let me think of her color, she whispers. I am a red fish.
– What shall I do? Maybe I dance with oysters.

– Do I have a mirror to brush my hair?

No. I should look upward. Always upward
to spin a story for winter
out of sun rays.

– Do I get hungry too?

No. I pick fruits from the sea, such as
this beautiful flower.

(The hook was nearby, like a lily shining under
the fisherman’s shadow)

The fish takes the bait, the girl yells: Ah . . .

I wish I’d known that life sometimes rots
from its dreams

the way a fish rots from the head down.


Adam Fethi

Fathi Gasmi, better known by his pen name Adam Fethi, is one of the most celebrated poets of dissent in Tunisia. He was born in 1957 in the south of the country. His poetry of commitment, written under siege during the political repression in the 1970s and 1990s, strived to maintain freedom of thought and speech. He managed to channel his protest in several songs that made him popular among students, and his poems were chanted by several Tunisian musical groups, including al-Bahth al-Musiqi (Research in Music) and Awled al-Manajim (Children of Mines). He also wrote songs for famous singers like Cheikh Imam in Egypt,Marcel Khalifa in Lebanon, and his countryman Lotfi Bouchnak. He is the author of several volumes of poetry, including Ughniat al-Naqabi al-Fasih (Song of the Eloquent Unionist, 1986), Anachid li Zahrat al-Ghubar (Songs to the Dust Rose, 1992), and Nafikhu al-Zujaj al-A'maa (The Blind Glassblower, 2011), which won the prestigious Abou Kacem Chebbi Prize. He is also the translator of several literary works, among them Journaux intimes by Charles Baudelaire and Syllogismes de l'amertume by Emil Cioran.

Hager Ben Driss

Hager Ben Driss is an assistant professor at the University of Tunis. She teaches world literature and conducts research in gender and postcolonial studies. She is the editor of Knowledge: Trans/Formations (Sahar Editions, 2013) and Women, Violence, and Resistance (Arabesque, 2017). Several of her articles on Arabic and Tunisian literature have been published in the Journal of Arabic Literature. Her translation of work by Tunisian poet Sghaier Ouled Ahmed appeared in Transference in 2017.

Copyright (c) Adam Fethi, 2011. English translation copyright (c) Hager Ben Driss, 2019.