Exodus

Ali Mahmoud Taha
Egyptian
1901 – 1949

 

The street is empty
as a monk’s memory,
and faces explode in the flames
like acorns—
and the dead crowd the horizon
and doorways.
No vein can bleed
more than it already has,
no scream will rise
higher than it’s already risen.
We will not leave!

Everyone outside is waiting
for the trucks and the cars
loaded with honey and hostages.
We will not leave!
The shields of light are breaking apart
before the rout and the siege;
outside, everyone wants us to leave.
But we will not leave!

Ivory white brides
behind their veils
slowly walk in captivity’s glare, waiting,
and everyone outside wants us to leave,
but we will not leave!

The big guns pound the jujube groves,
destroying the dreams of the violets,
extinguishing bread, killing the salt,
unleashing thirst
and parching lips and souls.
And everyone outside is saying:
“What are we waiting for?
Warmth we’re denied,
the air itself has been seized!
Why aren’t we leaving?”
Masks fill the pulpits and brothels,
the places of ablution.
Masks cross-eyed with utter amazement;
they do not believe what is now so clear,
and fall, astonished,
writhing like worms, or tongues.
We will not leave!

Are we in the inside only to leave?
Leaving is just for the masks,
for pulpits and conventions.
Leaving is just
for the siege-that-comes-from-within,
the siege that comes from the Bedouin’s loins,
the siege of the brethren
tarnished by the taste of the blade
and the stink of crows.
We will not leave!

Outside they’re blocking the exits
and offering their blessings to the impostor,
praying, petitioning
Almighty God for our deaths.

The Final Poem

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Andree Chedid
Egyptian
1920 – 2011

 

A forge burns in my heart.
I am redder than dawn,
Deeper than seaweed,
More distant than gulls,
More hollow than wells.
But I only give birth
To seeds and to shells.

My tongue becomes tangled in words:
I no longer speak white,
Nor utter black,
Nor whisper gray of a wind-worn cliff,
Barely do I glimpse a swallow,
A shadow’s brief glimmer,
Or guess at an iris.

Where are the words,
The undying fire,
The final poem?
The source of life?

I’m the Girl Banned from Attending Christian Religion Classes

We present this work in honor of Coptic Christmas Day.

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh
Egyptian
1984 – 2015

 

I’m the girl banned from attending Christian religion classes, and Sunday mass
Although I am a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus
In Train Station Square at the height of the morning
Even then, all the windows were open and the blood was racing the cars on the asphalt
The eyes of the girls were running in Heaven, catching the forbidden rocking chair.

I am the girl banned from love in the squares
I stood in the middle of the street and gathered in my hand the stars of the sky, individually,
And the sweat of the street vendors
The voices of beggars
And the people who love God as they damn this moment that the creatures of God approved
To crucifying Jesus naked in the crowded square on the clock arms as it declared one at noon
I, the girl banned from saying no, will never miss the dawn

At the Threshold of the Book

We present this work in honor of the 30th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Edmond Jabès
Egyptian
1912 – 1991

 

“What is going on behind this door?”
“A book is shedding its leaves.”
“What is the story of the book?”
“Becoming aware of a scream.”
“I saw rabbis go in.”
“They are privileged readers. They come in small groups to give us their comments.”
“Have they read the book?”
“They are reading it.”
“Did they happen by for the fun of it?”
“They foresaw the book. They are prepared to encounter it.”
“Do they know the characters?”
“They know our martyrs.”
“Where is the book set?”
“In the book.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the keeper of the house.”
“Where do you come from?”
“I have wandered.”
“Is Yukel your friend?”
“I am like Yukel.”
“What is your lot?”
“To open the book.”
“Are you in the book?”
“My place is at the threshold.”
“What have you tried to learn?”
“I sometimes stop on the road to the sources and question the signs, the world of my ancestors.”
“You examine recaptured words.”
“The nights and mornings of the syllables which are mine, yes.”
“Your mind is wandering.”
“I have been wandering for two thousand years.”
“I have trouble following you.”
“I, too, have often tried to give up.”
“Do we have a tale here?”
“My story has been told so many times.”
“What is your story?”
“Ours, insofar as it is absent.”
“I do not understand.”
“Speaking tortures me.”
“Where are you?”
“In what I say.”
“What is your truth?”
“What lacerates me.”
“And your salvation?”
“Forgetting what I said.”
“May I come in? It is getting dark.”
“In each word there burns a wick.”
“May I come in? It is getting dark around my soul.”
“It is dark around me, too.”
“What can you do for me?”
“Your share of luck is in yourself.”
“Writing for the sake of writing does nothing but show contempt.”
“Man is a written bond and place.”
“I hate what is said in place I have left behind.”
“You trade in the future, which is immediately translated. What you have left is you without you.”
“You oppose me to myself. How could I ever win this fight?”
“Defeat is the price agreed on.”
“You are a Jew, and you talk like one.”
“The four letters JUIF which designate my origin are your four fingers. You can use your thumb to crush me.”
“You are a Jew, and you talk like one. But I am cold. It is dark. Let me come into the house.”
“There is a lamp on my table. And the house is in the book.”
“So I will live in the house after all.”
“You will follow the book, whose every page is an abyss where the wing shines with the name.”

The Defense Speech

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

Salah Jahin
Egyptian
1930 – 1986

 

Tonight I dreamed that I was in a horrific situation
Speaking with the words coming out as sobs
Honorable Judges
My defense is simple.
My words are neither deep nor foolish.
Simple
Simple, like the clothes of the helpless barefoot poor
Simple, like a friend’s name on the lips of a friend
Simple, like the tear of an innocent person
Simple, like a hungry beast in the wild,
Simple, like a handful of flour
Honorable Judges, conscience and zeal, O supreme and mighty
My defense is powerful
Powerful, like the cry of a drowning man
Calling for a life boat, calling with the last of his strength, for life
My defense is powerful like an iron hammer
Powerful, like a threatening glare
Powerful, like the statue of a god
Powerful, like the axe of the fireman on the fire doors
Honorable Judges
Honorable, Noble, Great, Grand, Exalted
My defense is supported
Supported by all the great words
By the Torah, the Bible, the Psalms of David,
by the Holy Quran
My defense is supported by the moaning of violins everywhere
by all the rustle of the breeze
by mothers’ lullabies to babies in their cradles
by every “I love you” and “Oh”
by the sound of kisses.
And every true smile
Supports my defense.
And I raise my meek finger
and say my piece
Honorable Judges
Honorable Vultures roving above my corpse
I will say my piece
But before I speak my piece
You tell me
What is my charge

Was That Layla’s Flame

Ibn Al-Farid
Egyptian
1181 – 1234

 

Was that Layla’s flame that shone through the veils of night on Dhū-Salam?
Or lightning’s flash throughout the vales round Zawra and Al-Alam?
Have you but a sigh of dawn for me, O winds about Na’man?
Have you but a sip to offer me, O waters of Wajra?
O driver of laden camels rolling up the wayless sands
like a scroll of mighty writ beside the Sagebrush of Idam
Turn aside at the guarded safeground -God be your shepherd!- and seek the path
To yonder Lotus thicket, to the myrtle and laurel bay.
Then halt at Mount Sal, and ask at the curling vale of Raqmatayn:
Have the tamarisks grown and touched at last in the livening weep of the rain?
If you’ve crossed the waters of Aqīq in the mornlight, I implore you
By God, be unabashed and offer them my heart-felt Hail!
Tell everybody this: I have left behind a heart-felled man
Alive as a deadman, adding plague to plague through your domains.
From my heart like a burning bush there spreads a flame of more than fire.
From my eyes the pouring tears are like a ceaseless season of rains.
For such is lovers’ law: not one limb of the mortal body
When bound in love with a gazelle can ever be free of pain.
You ignoramus! You who defame and shame me for my love!
Desist and learn. You would not blame me, had your love been the same.
I swear by the sacred union, by the age-old love and by
Our covenant’s communion and all the things of bygone ages:
No consolation, no replacement turned me away from loving
For it is not who I am to move with the whims of solace and change.
Return the slumber to my eyes, and then perhaps I will see you
Visit my bed in the recklessness of dream as a revenant shade.
Alas for our days at Khayf! Had they but lasted each tenfold!
Alas for me, alas, how the last day couldn’t last or stay.
If only my grief could cure me, oh if only the “oh” of my woe
And my remorse could ever recover aught that is passed away,
Gazelles of the winding dell! Be kind and turn away from me
For I, to look on no one but my love, have bound my gaze
In deference to a Judge who has decreed a wondrous fatwa
That my blood be shed in every month, both sacred and profane.
Deaf, he did not hear my plea. Dumb, he could not reply.
He is stricken blind to the plight of one whom love has struck insane.

Nero

Khalil Mutran
Egyptian
1872 – 1949

 

That people which bestowed victory upon Nero
is more deserving of shame than he.
What was that Nero whom they worshipped?
He was coarse and ignorant,
A dwarf whom they raised on hight.
They crawled before him and he grew in arrogance.
They glorified him and extended his shadow
untill it filled the earth with crime.
They gave him of their power, so he
became a tyrant over them, and worse.
The ruler oppresses only when he has no fear
of the ruled revolting.
Some denounce Nero, But I, the nation;
had it defied him, retreat would have been his lot.
every nation creates its own Nero,
be he called “Caesar” or “Chosroes”.

Peaceful Garden

In honor of Revolution Day, we present this work by one of Egypt’s great modern poets.

Abbas al-Aqqad
Egyptian
1889 – 1964

 

My garden stretches under death’s shadow,
But life moistens it with dew of golden fallow.
A sieve dissipates clouds of miasmic grit
Protecting trees from its noxious flit.
Birds bearing an air of melancholy
Dream to soar with drunken jolly.
My heart finds itself, in all this abundance
Smelling scents of such soft fragrance.
Like an eye at night, awake it tries to keep
But falls to fatigue, overcome by sleep.
From one state to another, a faraway distraction
grips it, and then awakens renewed attraction.
A dream, through its vision, becomes reality
Caressed by tenderness and much dexterity.
Thus, as a dream, beauty is detected
When at night its gilded veil is ejected.
Heaven’s gift, this land with furrows plowed.
To solitary souls its great bounty allowed.
Fresh and light, winds gentle and restful
Blown from another world seem so peaceful.
Here, ghosts of all stripes meet
Lost souls remorseful in defeat.
Let’s hope the respite that is our fate’s master
Unites at once those here and in the hereafter.
Before the last breath, to what aim
To whine? to worry? An effort so lame.

Noah’s Flood

Amal Donqol
Egyptian
1940 – 1983

 

Noah’s flood is coming nearer!
The city is sinking little… by little
Birds flee
And water rises
On the steps of houses
Shops
The post office
Banks
Statues (of our immortal ancestors)
Temples
Wheat sacks
Maternity hospitals
The prison gate
The State House
The corridors of fortified barracks.
Birds are leaving
Slowly…
Slowly…
Geese on the water float
Furniture floats…
And a child’s toy…
And a gasp of a sad mother
Young women on the roofs waver!
Noah’s flood is coming nearer
Here are “the wise men” fleeing to the ship
The singers, the prince’s horseman, the usurers, the judge of judges
(And his Mamlouk…),
The sword bearer, the temple dancer
(She rejoiced when she picked up her wig…)
Tax collectors, weapons importers,
The princess’s lover in his radiant effeminate manner
Noah’s flood is coming nearer.
Here are the cowards fleeing to the ship
While I was…
The city’s youth were
Bridling the unruly horse of the water
Carrying water on both shoulders.
And racing time
They were building stone dams for themselves
Hoping to save the bosom of youth and civilization
Hoping to save…the homeland!
…the master of the Ark shouted at me—before the advent
Of quietude:
“Escape from a country…where the spirit is no longer!”
I said:
Blessed are those who ate its bread…
In days of prosperity
And turned their back on it
In times of adversity!
Glory to us, we who have stood
(God has obliterated our names!)
to defy destruction…
And seek refuge in a mountain that doesn’t die
(They call it ‘the people’!)
We refuse to flee…
And we refuse to wander!
My heart, knit with injuries
Cursed by commentaries
Is resting, now, on the city’s remains
A blossom bland
Still…
After it said “No” to the ship …
and loved the homeland

All the People Stood

Hafez Ibrahim
Egyptian
1871 – 1932

 

All the people stood watching how I build the bases of joy on my own
And the pyramid builders at the beginning of time made me speechless during competition
I’m pride’s crown on the middle east’s head and its achievements are the jewels on my necklace
My pride in the beginning of time is huge Who has like my pride and joy?
If I die one day you will never see the middle east raising its head again
I’m free and I have broken my chains in regards to the enemy and I’ve cut my slavery
Did you see me when I broke my life and still didn’t reach my peak yet?
Is it fair that they free their lions while my own lion is still slaved ?
God looked at me and demanded my sons ,so they pulled towards joy in such a powerful way
I promised joy with the best of my men So, Please finish my promise today
And raise my country on knowledge and good conduct Because knowledge alone isn’t powerful
We bypass a situation in which all the beliefs are contradicting And the contradiction of beliefs is harmful
Therefore, Stand strong and powerful and be prepared!