Poetry: In Search of Lost Places, 5 by Mbarek Sryfi

15 January, 2022
“The Storyteller,” artist Rachid Bouhamidi, oil on canvas, 84 x 60 inches, 2020 (courtesy Rachid Bouhamidi).

Mbarek Sryfi


On the Road

Like a tormented soul, like a leaf in the wind,
I am restless
Like a fraught heart. I am on edge
Like the throbbing of new words — as they
Stroke the page — as they
Breathe the air of so many places—as they
Impart a new life — as they
Become a journey
Into the blue sky, the horizon, the clear nights
Where the stars — like a lonely lighthouse —
Will you to scour the self.
I remind myself of how I longed to take a flight —
Like a warbler —
To flit about in the clouds,
To belie my unquiet spirit
I am restless
Like a sprout seed
In the soughing wind
From which shall grow a penstemon

I will always be solitary,
But free.


In Search of Lost Places

In search of lost places
I stand alone on the beach
In front of me to the East the horizon —
Wave after wave — Opens
The ocean. Glassy
Comes to claim me back
Between solitude and waves, the horizon
Disappearing before my eyes
With each new tide, I
Gather sounds, smells, and gusts —
With every shiver — I
Sift through them, I
Stitch them together
To trace back my old places

But for now, alone I’ll keep
Watching the stars like a sailor
Roaming the piers
Looking about the beach
Unquenched longing grows in scope
And remains etched in my mind
Wrapping me in its full embrace
Wearing a smile. Though sadly,
Spurred by longing, I
Work my way through words
Mending my way across
The crashing of waves
I stand alone on the beach
In search of lost places


Life on the Hyphen

The blue sky, boundless
Unpacks a new day
That feels magical.

With rapt attention …
I look at an eagle hovering high above, rapt

Under the boundless blue sky
In the stillness of the day
We sit in a circle. Echoes bouncing.
A beat came into my heart. Each beat, pure,

Strong enough to conjure up my ancestors’ memory.
Heavy on my mind — the separation

Bodies undulate to the rhythm of the drum
Echoing through the plain
The drumbeat, in unison,
A heartbeat. Speechless hearts.

If I were to close my eyes, is it possible that I
Commit this moment to eternity?

Ovid said this would happen
Only poetry can heal from
The alienation of distance.
And I let myself be carried away

What a heartfelt relief!
What more can one ask for?


At Home


Through the drapes
I contemplate the snowflakes falling
Dance as they catch the light
Providing me relief

In the moment,
Lost for words,
I marvel at the sight
Lingering on the memory of all I have lost.

Staring at the world outside speechless
Mesmerized by the ensuing silence.
Yet my estrangement remains, even increases
In much the same way as if I have come full circle.

No matter how peaceful the snow is
There’s nothing more tragic than
When it blankets any previous traces
And the sense of distance is magnified.

Alone with my thoughts
Through fragments of fleeting
Weary moments. The clock delicately ticks
And time seems to come to a standstill.

The fire crackles,
Flickers, breaks into sparks
Awakens within me
The joy bequeathed to me.

Swayed by the interminable pauses. There I realized
On the threshold of the very moment,
Minutes and seconds huddling together
For warmth. Yearning to keep memory alive.                            

I caught my reflection so unguarded
Chasing a dream. Hope following.
How quiet my world is, I thought.
One must subdue exile or otherwise be stifled by it.


The Allegory of My First Independence Day 


On such a summer day
a white cloud makes its way
through the blue sky

On a summer day
I allowed my attention to drift away

A child on his father’s shoulders
waving a pair of flags

Red, white, and blue curtains flutter in the windows
adorned picnic tables

The smell of fireworks wafts through the air
in the mixed scent of the festivities

Nature continues to blossom
dahlias and marigold bloom in the yards

The wind chimes gently jingle
it is a moment to be reckoned with

People continue to drift away
and I am listening to The Boss’s American Land

It is this moment

happiness and sadness that so affected me

The thought that fills me with such mixed feelings
is sufficient to remind me

of the condition of being relocated
yet, our hope will endure forever.


Mbarek Sryfi is a lecturer in foreign languages and serves as the Arabic language Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned a B.A. in English Language and Literature and a M.A. in Education, holds a teacher certification from the Ecole Nationale Superieure, and earned a PhD in Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. His work has been widely published in many journals and magazines, and anthologies including Al-Arabiyya, ArabLit Quarterly, Banipal, CEELAN Review, Metamorphoses, Middle Eastern Literatures, The Journal of North African Studies, Translation Review, World Literature Today, and has contributed to A New Divan— a lyrical dialogue between East & West, among others. Sryfi has co-authored Perspectives: Arabic Language and Culture in Film (2009), co-translated five books, The Monarch of the Square (2014), The Arabs and the Art of Storytelling (2014), The Elusive Fox (2016), The Blueness of the Evening (2018), With Urgency (2021), and published two poetry collections, The Trace of a Smile (a chapbook that shared first place in a poetry contest in 2018) and City Poems (2020).

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