Yahia Lababidi’s Balancing Acts

Balancing Acts: New and Selected Poems 1993-2015

Lababidi the aphorist, essayist and poet in his Balancing Acts transforms into an avid storyteller. Lababidi treads between the mystical, mundane and imaginary in his most up-to-date comprehensive collection. This collection features a wide range of topics from Egypt to exile and everything in between. I immediately fell in love with “Voluntary Exile”:

                        No matter how voluntary

                        it may appear,

                        exile is never

                        really a choice

-but banishment

from the land of the living.

Simple yet shrouded with layers of meaning for the poet who resides in the states for the past ten years. Exile, whether it is voluntary or imposed, uproots the individual from his/her heritage, family, and environment. The yearning for Egypt resurfaces in multiple poems and is eloquently captured in “Cairo”:

                        I buried your face, someplace

                        by the side of the new road

                        so I would not trip over it

                        every morning or on evening stroll

The poet hides in his mind all the memories of his homeland safe and sound. Lababidi tightly holds on to the sights and smells of a place that exists firmly in his mind. In “Alexandria” the bride of the Mediterranean Sea the poet envisions the unrealistic allure of this popular tourist destination:

                        taking the air in outstretched arms

                        with open mouth

                        they drink the wild waking dream

                        of a shoreless sea.

In “Discarded People” the poet possibly describes the rundown condition of undocumented migrants or refugees who are not recognized by authorities:

                        Discarded people like plastic bottles

                        litter streets sidewalks and benches

                        out to air their cramped crumpled spirits

                        from rotting in long-forgotten drawers

                        -staring intently at Nowhere, in particular

It is quite reminiscent of Warsan Shire’s “Home” where she outlines the disposability of unwanted people by the privileged and upstanding members of society:

the

go home blacks

refugees

dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange

savage

messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off

Lababidi’s poems are linguistically rich, highly engaging and topics address wide issues ranging from love to ancestry. The poet easily and effortlessly glides through subjects with clarity, sense of wonder and with the purpose of examining life. Lababidi’s poems transcend the mere locality of one particular place, feeling or contemplation. Reading his poems one gets the sense that people are more than their religion, status and indulgences. The spiritual person who finds wisdom and comfort in Rumi surely has a companion in Lababidi.