Habibi: A Moroccan Poet Sings to His Love

Worst of all is the dread of the habibi’s indifference, particularly of her intonation when it lacks the right signals of acceptance and ardor. As when:

I picked up the little black portable

to call you

but my fingers froze above the buttons…

Sometimes I grow fearful, love…

to hear the distance in the voice…

to hear the unseasonable silence.

Then I am less than nothing…

I found most powerful in this vein “When the Screen Goes Dark,” an evocation of the sudden anomie of a computer crash:

when the power goes

and the message I haven’t sent

for fear of your reply

is erased

as if wiped from the slate

when the lesson is done,

when a world ends,

even a little simulated world,

with a quick electric click

and an echoing clap of silence,

I grow virtual and disappear…

This little book is, then, a rollercoaster ride of amorous joys and woes. It is also a feat of imagination, organically and seemingly effortlessly situating its fictive poet-protagonist at a rich intersection of contemporary life and Arab and Islamic lore.

Two of Maghrebi’s poems are, however, fraternal responses to similarly themed love poems by another Solway persona -- an ostensible Israeli poet named Dov Ben-Zamir. As the introduction to Habibi notes, Maghrebi eschews the region’s turmoil and animosities for a “profound…immersion in the stream of personal emotion.” It is, I can add, personal emotion conveyed so compellingly as to give this book an exceptional charm and impact.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)