Omar Sabbagh

Sunlight Upon Sunlight, The Manichee: Omar Sabbagh

Sunlight Upon Sunlight

For Alia Sabbagh

Sometimes, my eyes will catch her caught in her own still moment. It is late afternoon, say, and spears of light angle into the living room, the long deft spears of sunlight almost violet-colored at this waning part of day. My girl might be gamboling in stumbling circles, chasing a fallen or moving toy, or just wandering around in search of the next bit of world to ignite the play of her imagination, the next foil to flame and billow through her like something we adults often recall as joy. And then, just now, there is a moment, a point at which she stops the slipstream of her ambient mind wagging and burgeoning into more and more life; at which she stoppers the humdrum role or mask of time, corking it, bottling it, only to drink it up the more fluently, presently. She has spied, it seems, a small quadrangle of sunlight reflected or refracted from the partly-shaded, wide wall-wide window, splayed there like a small, rare instance of loyalty or truth upon the Persian carpet – whose rigorous patterns play and dovetail between plum and beige, navy and a rich wheat-grey. The charged citrus shape on the carpet beguiles her. What is there left to do, she seems to think, briefly, but to capture it, grasp it, as though stepping and stepping again on the small, good portion of sunlight were, in a manner, like the learning of a new word. Her greatest wish at this moment, it seems to me, is to reach and demand for the impossible. Likewise, she tries to catch and grip the clouds of smoke, emitted like spirals of mystery, which emerge from my toking mouth; I shouldn’t be smoking in her vicinity, of course, but watching her attempt and strive for the impossible is one of the highlights of my day. So, when she steps and steps again upon this shard of sunlight, this workaday presence she makes strange, she is reaching, you might say, for utopia, or a place she’s never been to as yet; a place in fact that none of us know; though distantly, perhaps, once a place we looked-to too, searching the illuminate distance.

The Manichee

Beneath the noonday sun, you fight
with your shadow: it’s a foretold gambit.
To the question of who, exactly, you are,
you fight back with you, a riven answer.

It’s not just a token of brave dehiscence
that I see; it’s the inborn, the innate manner
by which the perfect splits your temper,
and tries its essays of little sense…

Sometimes, you will fly-off, a long way gone,
to enter the territories of all the viscid wrongs
done to you; and on those lands of hurt
the sickle, the scythe, must do their work.

But there is another part of you, another
part, like another section of the book
whose fluttering pages, baffled by dog-eared
looks, speak of your rising – speak and speak

as well of the sheer mad effort it took
to latch like others onto the light
of being friends in faith with your own
dear self… And so now, in the corner

of your finishing, the way the polish
proffers a sheen that’s as you’d wish,
your meaning’s the golem or the incubus
of the troubles you’ve so deftly crossed –

like a wanderer into life, or like a thought
that finds its berth in a waiting mind.
And it’s the dock I’ve always wished for:
where my own small boat of life

finds itself at anchor, me and all
the native peoples of my white…
And it’s by the lullaby, by the tuneful
music, they dance, these peoples,

making excellent rhythms out of love…
But then again, for all this, for all this
ratcheting at the last, for all this
finished form from out of shattered glass,

you stay split between the perfect water,
a river’s clean stream, cosseting a daughter
of magnificence, and the darkest laughter
catching you, once upon a time, perhaps, forever after.

Omar Sabbagh is a widely published poet, writer and critic. Over the last decade and a half, his poetry has appeared and/or will be forthcoming in many prestigious venues, such as: Poetry Review, PN Review, Agenda, Acumen, New Humanist, (T&F) New Writing, The Reader Magazine, Stand, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Banipal, The Warwick Review, The Wolf, among many others. His first collection and his fourth collection are, respectively: My Only Ever Oedipal Complaint and To The Middle of Love (Cinnamon Press, 2010/17). His 5th collection, But It Was An Important Failure, was published with Cinnamon Press near the start of 2020. His Beirut novella, Via Negativa: A Parable of Exile, was published with Liquorice Fish Books in March 2016; and he has published much short fiction, some of it prize-winning. A study of the oeuvre of Professor Fiona Sampson, Reading Fiona Sampson: A Study in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, was published with Anthem Press in July 2020, and was released in revised, paperback edition in 2021. His Dubai novella, Minutes from the Miracle City was published with Fairlight Books in July 2019. His latest poetry collection, Morning Lit: Portals After Alia, is published with Cinnamon Press at the start of March 2022. He is also currently at work on a Lebanese verse novel, The Cedar Never Dies, just contracted for 2022 with Northside Press; and a collection of his published short fictions, Y Knots, is due to be published with Liquorice Fish Books in 2023. He holds a BA in PPE from Oxford; three MA’s, all from the University of London, in English Literature, Creative and Life Writing, and Philosophy; and a PhD in English Literature from KCL. He was Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the American University of Beirut (AUB), from 2011-2013. Presently, he teaches at the American University in Dubai (AUD), where he is Associate Professor of English.