Even If You are Not With Me

We present this work in honor of the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Mahmoud Mohammed Shaker
Egyptian
1909 – 1997

 

Even if you are not with me, the memories of you are with me.
My heart sees you, even if you are made vanished from my vision.
The eye sees who it loves but will end up losing the sight of them.
But the one who sees with their heart, will never lose the sight
(of the people they love).

Balloons

In honor of Revolution Day, we present this work by one of contemporary Egypt’s most evocative poets.

Mostafa Ibrahim
Egyptian
b. 1986

 

To know the strength of things, sometimes we need to break them.
To know we want some things, sometimes we need to lose them.
Craving certainty, how many friends did you call liars?
Attaining certainty, you lost your friends.
How many balloons did you burst inflating them beyond their limit?
Discovering that limit, you found regret.

I now know why I burst balloons:
I longed for something never-ending –
or with an end I’d never reach.
Walls that have my back.
Walls that will stay standing, even when I knock them down.
Something certain that, when tested, will not break.

Translation by Nariman Youssef

A Rose That Died

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

07-01-22 Moutran
Khalil Mutran
Egyptian
1872 – 1949

 

O questing birds, what seek you in your wanderings?
They made answere:
We are the hopes of youth; and here our beloved
lived and suffered.
She was the rose in our garden, reigning
justly with the submission of all therein.
Yet all too soon we saw her fall from her throne,
then disappear.
And so you see us ever searching for some trace of her,
Or flocking where once she was wont to be.

Drink Delirium

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

06-01 Surur
Naguib Surur
Egyptian
1932 – 1978

 

There will be anger
Followed by the deluge.
We know we will be among the drowned.
But we will take the devil with us down
To the deepest of deeps:
Our end will be his…
But slowly… What will be said
Of us when they look back on it all?
What will be said
Of us after the deluge,
After the coming drowning, after the coming anger,
What will be said of us poets and writers?
Were we men in truth,
Half-men
Or mere shadows?
Fear,
Fear of the sword,
Made of us something unspeakable —
Except in the vulgar tongue.

What will be said?
Will it be said we chose silence
For fear of death?
The letter has an edge like a sword,
Can turn against its speaker.

What will be said?
Will it be said that we chose to speak in symbols,
Whispers, silent gestures,
In all the arts of coded speech?
We said it all — in vino veritas,
But people
Had other concerns:
Their daily bread,
A kilo of meat.

Maqrizi,
You who always come after the deluge:
A plague is a plague —
It always comes on the tail of a famine.
It snatched your daughter, and many other daughters
As the wolf was standing guard.

I hereby solemnly swear, Maqrizi,
Not to leave this world
Without scandal.
I ask no one for justice:
True justice is not to be begged.
Our judges are high priests,
Our high priests are distant
And all are traitors.
Let someone else write poetry,
I am writing the Chronicles of Maqrizi.

I drink, day
And night I drink.
Sinking… I sink into my depths.
There I see him,
In my heart a holy pearl,
Unbreakable,
Even if a giant mountain falls upon it.
When I sober up, I float to the surface, lose my pearl.
Was it lost? No. It was me who was lost—
When I sobered up I floated to the surface.
For sure the pearl is down there in the depths…
No.
It is between two thighs, trampled under feet
Shod in military or civilian boots,
Under the wheels of petro-dollar cars.

Usually I drink from two glasses…
My comrade in the madhouse died.
He used to share my drink
And share my grief.
We had no time for joy:
He used to share my past anger,
And present anger — and that to come.
Usually I drink from two glasses,
The second to toast him.
But tonight I drink from one glass:
It seems my friend, upon his death,
Had given up drinking;
Or maybe it was me who gave up.
Then let me drink to giving up drinking
Until the last of all the Noahs’ arks has left
With all those who will be saved from the coming deluge.

I sink and sink
And see in my glass
Monkey fornicating with rat
Or rat fornicating with wolf
Or wolf with owl.

Maqrizi’s daughter is lost
In the plague
And the plague always comes on the tail of a famine,
When prices are measured against a kilo of meat,
Even the price of writers, novelists, poets,
Artists and scientists,
When the stuff of the dreams of the poor is meat;
And fuul beans,
Fruit for the masters.

I recall a poet’s saying:
I shall sleep not to see
My country being bought and sold.

Then drink from two glasses,
Or, if you wish, drink from one.
If my death cannot be driven away,
Then let me engage with it
With what I have at hand.

 

Translation by Mona Anis and Nur Elmessiri

Seasons

05-10 Fathy
Safaa Fathy
Egyptian
b. 1958

 

There was a month I called May. When I buried it in papers, passion streaming down,
flooding the tiles of the rooms.
Herds of gazelles searching for mercy lap it up…and I wander about in search of a
knife
to sharpen against my cheekbones, as I turn the pages of these moments.
You are a stranger to me, and your eyes are the foam of distances running like rivers between us.
Don’t ask me about my evaporating grief; perhaps it has become salt with which to
doctor wounds,
or maybe seeds I can scatter across the floor, to absorb the words that creep there in
search of a story.
Perhaps my sorrow was a bedsheet that couldn’t cover its old bed.
Its only pretext was to gaze at the sky and snatch up stars.
Thus, with no trace of treason.
We were sitting on the couch casting glances into the horizon, arrows of light years.
Waiting, we dified the hours.
Our revolt…ashamed to wear a mask, its savage visage.
Our feet stalked insects to crush them, while they flaunted themselves like naked words
Determined to gasp their last breaths in our sight.
Between us there are also silken buds, fluttering spring butterflies.
Their clusters are like the sun’s bashfulness when it gathers the girl’s milk teeth,
causing the seasons, and among them you, cunning Spring.
Is what’s between us the empire of Ahmad Taha?
Or those gleaming golden circles, panting behind steely eyes?
I wish I were a leaf, with cells in rows.
My splendor, seasons borne by sailboats. My ending the winter, when geckos hide away to dream of new plants growing.
From your bandaged wounds, in salt and fog,
soaring across riverbanks the morning of erupting promises,
running from shore to quay like a short story collapsing breathless on the streets,
Does anyone forbid fabrication?

Or might those cities that swallow fog conjure the word away too?
The same palm outstretched to God,
the same bare feet.
The same eyes, sparkling with poetry’s delight.
Is this why you tremble, dreading the city’s pages?
Is this why you left the streets, to seek refuge in the nightmares of years?
Will you take comfort in the disgrace of seasons,
and the vagrancy of lone words
on the sidewalks of meaninglessness?

 

Translation by S.V. Atalia

Song of the Stranger

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 110th birthday.

04-16 Jabes
Edmond Jabès
Egyptian
1912 – 1991

 

I’m looking for
a man I don’t know,
who’s never been more myself
than since I started to look for him.
Does he have my eyes, my hands
and all those thoughts like
flotsam of time?
Season of a thousand wrecks,
the sea no longer a sea,
but an icy watery grave.
Yet farther on, who knows how it goes on?
A little girl sings backward
and nightly reigns over trees
a shepherdess among her sheep.
Let us wrench thirst from the grain
of salt no drink can quench.
Along with the stones, a whole world eats
its heart out, being
from nowhere, like me.

 

Translation by Rosemarie Waldrop

A half-man

02-08 El Saadawi
Nawal El Saadawi
Egyptian
b. 1931

 

My friend is married to a man married also to another.
He divides his life fairly and squarely between them,
One half for my friend and the second half for the other woman.
A married man once came to me and said ‘I love you.’
I asked him what he wanted.
He said a lawful wife in accordance with God’s precepts.
I said being a whole woman I could not accept half a man.
He went livid and accused me of heresy.
Pointing his gun at my head, he said,
‘Death to the woman who does not know God.’
So I pointed my gun at his head saying,
‘Death to the half men.’
So he retracted and went back to his wife.

 

Translation by Amira Nowaira

Happiness

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 55th birthday.

11-30 Mersal
Iman Mersal
Egyptian
b. 1966

 

I believe the stretcher
whisked by two
as the patient’s coma is interrupted on it.
I doubt the sympathy in the eyes that follow the scene.

I respect the fisherman
because he is the only one who understands the fish.
Then I peel its scales spitefully.

I have no patience to contemplate the sea
while my fingers are stained with the palette’s colors.

At the moment of waking
my spirit is dark.

I do not remember any of last night’s dreams except
the urge for an objective history
of pleasure’s link to pain
darkness to terror,
terror to waking from sleep
to face a dark spirit.

Happiness therefore
lies in steam shovels which alone are worthy of love.
Their tongues precede them
as they neutrally overturn the memory of the earth.

 

Translation by Khaled Mattawa

Dawning

In honor of Revolution Day, we present this work by one of today’s most evocative Egyptian poets.

07-23 Lababidi
Yahia Lababidi
Egyptian
b. 1973

 

There are hours when every thing creaks
when chairs stretch their arms, tables their legs
and closets crack their backs, incautiously

Fed up with the polite fantasy
of having to stay in one place
and stick to their stations

Humans too, at work, or in love
know such aches and growing pains
when inner furnishings defiantly shift

As decisively, and imperceptibly, as a continent
some thing will stretch, croak or come undone
so that everything else must be reconsidered

One restless dawn, unable to suppress the itch
of wanderlust, with a heavy door left ajar
semi-deliberately, and a new light teasing in
Some piece of immobility will finally quit
suddenly nimble on wooden limbs
as fast as a horse, fleeing the stable.