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Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs

Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs

Abdulaziz Al Farsi
Translated by Nancy Roberts
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs
    Book Description:

    Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs opens with the return of Khalid Bakhit, a government employee, to his hometown in Oman after a time away in the big city, and concludes with his return to the city with a new maturity born of a series of wrenching encounters with reality. Khalid’s return home, sparked by his flight from a painful love affair, coincides with events that reveal the force of long-established traditions that have a stranglehold on the town: from racial prejudice, to religious bigotry, to ossified patterns of leadership. Khalid’s awakening and transformation are catalyzed by his encounters with a certain “Saturnine poet" who, in the course of chasing after an elusive ode, has stumbled upon this unnamed village. For a period of time “the Saturnine" becomes Khalid’s closest companion: listening to his woes, helping him see himself with new eyes, and imparting to him a wisdom from a world beyond, untainted by human smallness.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-338-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
    (pp. 1-20)

    I was singing my only song, the shortest song the history of defeats has ever known, and the longest sorrow absence has ever clung to. I don’t claim to have written it, but there’s no doubt that I gave it a tune that was flowing in my blood and part of my voice. One day they asked me, “Who wrote it exactly?” Closing my eyes with utter confidence, I replied, “A poet from Saturn.” I refrained from making any further comment. The people of my village intersperse their conversations with lots of questions, but they’re defeated by curt, superficial replies....

    (pp. 21-31)

    No reality exists on this village’s soil. Everything here is part of a crazy dream. We’ll wake up from it soon and resume the lives we were living before going to sleep. I don’t remember when I went to sleep to have this dream. But I’m certainly having the shortest dream anyone could have. A British officer said to me one evening, “Do you know how long the longest dream anyone ever had was?” “Three hours?” I guessed. He shook his head, his lips parting in a knowing smile. He looked out at the sea before us. “Less than a...

  5. AYDA
    (pp. 32-38)

    Pass by here, you mad lover, and keep my breaths with you. Mix me with the flavor of the light and dip me in your arteries. Take me to you, since I don’t want to live without you any longer. My longing heart was afraid for you before you went to the council meeting. I’d heard my mother say they were going to banish you from the village forever. In spite of myself I got teary-eyed right in front of her. Clearly upset, she gasped, “What’s making you cry? Damn you, what are you hiding from me?”

    I couldn’t answer....

    (pp. 39-51)

    “Good evening, Abu Ayda. We’ve come to visit you!”

    We didn’t give him time to answer. Instead, the four of us stepped forward all at once and walked in. We went ahead of him to the parlor and sat down. Sa‘id Dhab‘a sat next to me, and Walad Shamshum sat beside Hamdan Tajrib. Abu Ayda followed us into the room, saying, “Damn you! What religion is this that teaches people to visit the sick after midnight?”

    We all laughed, since we knew he realized that some secret lay behind our visit.

    Sa‘id Dhab‘a said, “We see you can move around....

    (pp. 52-56)


    I recognized the voice as belonging to Suhayl al-Jamra al-Khabitha. It was such a distinctively roguish voice that no ear could have mistaken it. There were many footsteps, and they were coming my way. Then the reality behind the steps appeared to me: Suhayl, Walad Shamshum, Sa‘id Dhab‘a, Hamdan Tajrib, and Abu Ayda. It’s my belief that on the Day of Resurrection, these five men will pass directly into the hellfire without any reckoning. The angels who have been given charge over them are tired of recording. No doubt they’ve got something wicked up their sleeves.

    I told them,...

    (pp. 57-63)

    What should a lonely person like me do when he cries?

    I’ve never left the mud house. How could any man in his right mind break one of his children into pieces? And the mud houses are my children! This is why I’ve lived between walls of mud, breathing air that has the same scent I’ve been accustomed to since the time when I was born. It’s a peculiar scent. I remember it in moments of joy and sadness, and in moments of longing. I remember it when I’m thirsty, and when my thirst is quenched. Sometimes I’ll be at...

    (pp. 64-79)

    The flood is my father and my mother. Life has caused me to be everyone’s son. It has also caused me to have no cherished companion.

    When I was a little boy I discovered that I was different from all the children around me. At first I considered myself better than them all, since I thought my master Mihyan was my real father. I also considered all the women of the village to be my mothers. Every day I was taken care of by a different mother. Sometimes I would play with children that I thought were my brothers and...

    (pp. 80-98)

    “I don’t understand anything any more.”

    I made this declaration to my grandfather’s face, with no hesitation. He put another bite in his mouth without looking up. When Zahir Bakhit wants to ignore someone, he averts his eyes. He chewed the bite unhurriedly. I was disconcerted. I imagined he would lift his eyes and give me a stern, harsh look that would convulse the universe.

    I repeated the words: “I don’t understand anything any more.”

    His voice came decisively. “Your biggest problem in life is that you’re in too much of a hurry. If God had given you the ability...

    (pp. 99-102)

    I’ve made up my mind and won’t back down: I’m going to be the village leader.

    Should we go under because our leader has gotten senile, and because the person who’s taken the helm in his place is a reckless man? And now the leader is all enthused over a stranger whose origins we know nothing about. He’s even decided to build him a mud house. Does that make sense? We’ve even started importing religion from outside. What do we need with this Alam al-Din? Anything Zahir Bakhit gets involved with is bound to end up going wrong. For the...

    (pp. 103-121)

    Easy does it, you village of marvels, you daughter of hell.

    The silent ones who dream, how weary they are. The road has not been moved to compassion, nor have festivities drawn them in. How they grieve and toil. How often they depart with a wound in their deepest parts.

    I said to the poem, “Come nearer, so that I can take a sip from your mouth.”

    She laughed and gestured. “You come!” I floated through the air and caught up with her. She visited the moons and the planets, my heart panting after her all the while. Then, suddenly,...

  13. AYDA
    (pp. 122-132)

    Waiting is bitter.

    Last semester one of my professors was late for a lecture. So, to pass the time, one of the students sat down on the lecturer’s seat and suggested that he pose us a general question about life, then listen to all the students’ answers. We cheered in agreement. The question was: “If you had the freedom to choose, which would you prefer: to wait for someone you love who has gone on a long trip and you aren’t sure whether he will be back, or to hear that this person had died?” When they first heard the...

    (pp. 133-144)

    I concluded that Jam‘an must be sick today, since the only voice I heard sounding the dawn call to prayer this morning was Ubayd al-Dik’s. Every morning when I wake up to the sound of the tapping on the microphone before the call to prayer, I open my eyes and go floating with al-Dik’s voice through the kingdom of God. Then, before the middle of the call to prayer, I grab both ends of the pillow, and the moment Jam‘an starts his part of the call to prayer, I press them over my ears. I don’t do this to avoid...

    (pp. 145-151)

    Just before I was startled by the call to prayer, I thought we were on a stairway that had been chiseled into the clouds. It was fabulous, the taste of the spirit’s tranquillity when it throws itself into the arms of another being that shares the same torments. At that moment I forgot the village, and time. The only thing on my mind at that instant was: How can I enjoy every moment and do it justice? I don’t deny the terror that came over me when I heard the tapping on the microphone. When Ubayd al-Dik began the dawn...

    (pp. 152-167)

    Why did Zahir Bakhit insist on nominating Ubayd al-Dik to lead the congregation in prayer? It was Zahir himself who brought Alam al-Din to this village, so he must have confidence in him. This being the case, how could he withdraw this confidence and nominate someone else as imam? It was confusing. The only task before me now was to think carefully about how the village’s affairs were going. Everything was moving so fast, it was as if we had fallen from a mountaintop into a ravine. We were approaching the bottom, and the more time passed, the faster we...

    (pp. 168-172)

    So, Mihyan, you’ll be stepping down soon.

    You’ve got no right to prevent people from choosing what they want for themselves. You inherited the leadership from your father. However, you didn’t inherit the leadership ability required to manage the affairs of a village that’s changing as much as this one is. Even the people have gotten tired of you. Didn’t you notice how quick they were to support us, and how they helped us when we told them about the idea of a new council? You’ve gotten old, Mihyan. And so have your ideas. People are always looking for something...

    (pp. 173-186)

    The kiss with which Ayda embraced my lips a minute ago set me on fire. It was like the moment of birth, and my heart turned into a newborn letting forth its first cry in life’s face. At the sound of that cry, tribes were raised to life inside my chest; tribes whose dry bones had been waiting impatiently for that moment. I found myself closing my eyes and opening my arms. Ayda flung herself down like a cloud laden with cool water that quenched my heart’s thirst. I imagined myself listening to the neighing of steeds galloping through my...

    (pp. 187-190)

    Mihyan, Khadim, Alam al-Din, and I are at this meetinghouse. The coffeepots are full, but there’s no one here but us. Zahir said he was feeling indisposed. As for Khalid, nobody sees him any more in the mosque, or anywhere else for that matter. Everyone’s gone over to the new meetinghouse, or the “Council of Harm,” as Zahir calls it. None of them comes around any more to help Mihyan build the mud house, which, if things were all right, would have been finished three days ago. Every morning, Mihyan, Alam al-Din, and Khadim carry on with the building all...

    (pp. 191-194)

    I’d come back from the council meeting, happy with what we’d accomplished. People were nearly in agreement on the idea of making Mihyan step down as the village leader. All that remained now was for us to start planting my name in people’s heads as his replacement. I thought back on certain intimations that Hamdan Tajrib had made. It seems he’s gotten quite into the game, and I think people are going to let him try his hand at leadership. One day, in an attempt to sound me out, he pretended to be joking and said in my presence, “Why...

    (pp. 195-198)

    “Come closer so that you can receive a reward,” called Imam Rashid. “Let each person strew three handfuls of dirt on the deceased, then let someone else do the same so that he can receive a reward as well.”

    As we flocked around the grave to strew soil over it, a cloud of dust was released into the air, and fits of coughing began. Hands reached out and strewed the soil until the grave disappeared and there was nothing left but dirt. The hole disappeared and the dirt rose higher, forming a hill over the surface of the earth. Little...

    (pp. 199-202)

    Was I just having a long dream?

    What’s happened is no small thing. Everything has happened more quickly than anyone could have anticipated. Just like that, in a matter of days, the tranquillity the village enjoyed for decades has turned into a huge clamor. I never thought I would live to see everything that’s happened in the past few weeks. Does this make any sense?

    The day after that meetinghouse was burned down, Suhayl registered a complaint against Khalid with the municipal authorities, accusing him of setting the meetinghouse on fire. The authorities brought a team of experts to examine...

    (pp. 203-207)

    What should I write now? Two days ago I thought oblivion was bound to come, and that it would swallow up the love and sorrow that had passed between us. I believed in my ability to move forward along life’s paths and to become so busy with other things—anything—that I would have no time to think of you. But you cling to the minutest particles of the spirit, and there’s no way to extract you except by extracting them. The wound you left inside me is getting steadily smaller, and whenever I wake up my heart says to...

    (pp. 208-212)

    Curses upon you, Zahir, in life and in death! I can just see dour, burly angels tormenting you on and on in the grave. From the grave, without any reckoning, you’ll enter the Fire on the Day of Resurrection. God must have sent that knife against you from the sky because you had mocked His religion. In fact, you deserve worse than that. If I went and opened our grave, I would find that God had turned you into a swine, then caused the earth to open up and swallow you. You were a swine when you were alive, and...

    (pp. 213-218)

    Just as Ayda had instructed me, I stood shortly before dawn at the back door to her house with a red candle in my hand. The door opened, and I went in. She brought me into a room that was filled with a sweet fragrance and sat me down on a soft mattress. She gazed at me with her beautiful smile.

    “So you’ve come, O king!” she said.

    If I had gone to sleep and dreamed of what was happening to me now, I wouldn’t have believed it. How much more difficult it was to believe, then, when it was...

    (pp. 219-224)

    As of this moment, what happened yesterday at dawn is still preoccupying those of us on either side of the ravine. We don’t know how things ended up happening the way they did. Before we had finished the dawn prayer, we heard Walad Shamshum shouting at the mosque door: “Come defend your honor! The slave has run away with your daughter Ayda!” Many of those in the congregation broke off their prayer and headed toward him. He told them he had seen Ayda leaving her father’s house. He had followed her to find out where she was going, and discovered...

    (pp. 225-229)