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.

The Man Whose Ola Cart Fell Over

06-05 Kaldas
Pauline Kaldas
Egyptian
b. 1958

 

A man pulls his cart piled with clay olas
maneuvers the knotted traffic
olas for sale to contain cool water
quench the sand starched mouth

Futile to unlock this tongue
I’m lost here
mazed into a pattern of textures and rhythms
snatched by the clutches of the tied bird of prey in the zoo
out of tune with the peacock caged in the pet store
stitched into the canvas of human sweat
to divulge the secret of this magnet that draws us near
a reckless gesture stumbles into the ola cart
scatters clay shards
and continue

That Evening

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

Salah Abdel Sabour
Egyptian
1931 – 1981

  

You spoke to me
Of winged horse-shoes
Sparking all round,
Flashing, igniting
The golden crescents
Of city minarets;
You spoke to me
Of a bunch of swords hard,
Stuck in a rock so stark,
To be drawn only on a spell:
Namely, the names, the charmed names of
your bunch,
How great, how formidable,
How good, how nice, how sweet – unconquerable!
‘O minstrel’, you ordered, ‘Sing us a song
‘(But keep your eyes down
‘In our presence)
‘Sing us a lay
‘To tickle our pride
‘In the victory of the side,
‘And when the appointed hour comes
‘(An hour unveiled
‘By a cloud dispelled)
‘We’ll drink up the dregs
‘When the devil’s helmet begs
‘To be a goblet bright
‘For the wine of superior knight’.

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?