Two Half Faces by Mustafa Stitou

Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer.




I, I’ve come on the night boat to tell you

The one who is addressing you here
is not the one who is writing this
the one who is writing this
not the one who is.

Is the one who is here absent
present my breath, here God?
Is my body His fate?





Misshapen is the crab:
so vain it created itself.

A tribe washes in milk:
the origin of apes.

A pomegranate consists of
congealed tears

shed by the prophet.
The profession of faith,

there are photos to prove it,
was written in the leaves of a tree.

And Armstrong
(though America won’t let anyone know)

heard a muezzin
on the moon.





Some forefathers, we know, dreamed God
and from their dream our world of finite things emerged.
They were the ones who sacrificed a child
to something almighty and invisible.
We also know that some dogs—
that with the passage of time, some people
come to resemble their pet. Occasionally
a source of hilarity, this mostly goes unnoticed.
My downstairs neighbors, by chance a childless couple,
always help me with my groceries, and ask in a whisper
if they’re not bothering me and if there’s anything
they can do for me.
Other forefathers were at a loss when it came to death
and birth alike, in a newborn child
they saw a dead forefather. And the confused faith
they founded has haunted our genes ever since;
my downstairs neighbors have confided in me that they will
and shall reincarnate as a mild-mannered species, as bees.


Mustafa Stitou was born in Tetouan, Morocco, in 1974, and grew up in Lelystad, in the Netherlands. He currently lives in Amsterdam, where he studied philosophy at the UvA. He has published four collections of poetry: Mijn vormen (My Forms, 1994), Mijn gedichten (My Poems, 1998), Varkensroze ansichten (Pig-Pink Picture Postcards, 2003), and Tempel (Temple, 2013). He is the recipient of the VSB Poetry Prize, the Jan Campert Prize, the Awater Poetry Prize, and the A. Roland Holst Award.

David Colmer (Adelaide, 1960) is an Australian writer and translator, mainly of Dutch-language literature. He translates novels, poetry and children’s literature and is the current English translator of Gerbrand Bakker, Dimitri Verhulst, Annie M.G. Schmidt, and Nachoem M. Wijnberg. Colmer’s poetry translations include selections of the work of Hugo Claus, Anna Enquist, Cees Nooteboom, Ramsey Nasr, and Paul van Ostaijen.


These poems from Two Half Faces are published by permission of Deep Vellum Publishing. Translation copyright © 2020 David Colmer. 


Published on September 16, 2020.


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