Poems by Mohab Nasr and Alaa Khaled
Six poems by Mohab Nasr from his recent collection يا رب… أعطنا كتابا لنقرأ (El Ain, 2012) [Lord, Give us a book that we might read] and two by Alaa Khaled from تحت شمس ذاكرة أخرى (Sharqiyat, 2012) [Beneath the sun of another memory].
Half reclined on the sunny shore of her life
She built a pile of sand
And set in it a ring
And said: Let’s play Where’s love hiding?
Thus did I become a husband.
A wave could reach out like an angry tongue,
That feet en route
To another umbrella
And families with kids in swim suits and small flippers
Might gouge through the same spot,
Salt water appearing
At the furrow’s bottom.
But with this circle round my finger,
With these dreamt-up limits to hope,
She built her idea of life:
A partially arranged coincidence,
That we could discuss
As though we really meant it.
He’d present his cheek to her each morning
For her to lay her kiss
Like an apple on a dish:
A gleaming apple
He wipes in the sun
On his daily route
Incredulous it’s still there;
An apple that prompted him to smile shyly
At his colleagues
Who pinched his other cheek.
He was proud, too, of this garden
Which thrives, day after day.
Ascending with razor and coming down singing,
A peasant on his way to the fields,
She was under the warm covers
Listening to this gathering of hay
To bear him a dog
To guard him from the thieves of joy.
A point of view
He strikes his thigh
As if summing up his position on the world;
Hands clasped behind his back
He thrusts his head forward,
Counter to the course of his life,
Like a prow, hastening to meet the next wave.
The outstretched hand
An arm is severed
But the past remains there,
Like a void in my sleeve
On the verge of greeting someone.
I’m forever missing my way
To the outstretched hand;
My tongue turns
Searching the mouth for a word.
With my bad hand
I write you my letters
That the smut not smear
While a restive flame leads
My canted steps.
A blow off the table
When he came to strike
His blow fell off the table,
His poise was shaken
And his whole life fell into despair.
“We warned him…” (they said)
“We saw his long neck beneath his friends’ windows
Bolted in the night;
We touched the black blooms on his pillow
And his thoughts scattered over the bedroom’s boards
Like damp butts.”
In his kitchen
The broad knife slept
Across the lone tomato
Left over from the night before;
His capsized shoe by the entrance
And its sole, bearing the filth of his life.
As though his eyes were somewhere else:
“Who are we?”
“Who am I and who are you?”
As they listen to the whisper of its blind wings.
Striking the walls of the houses
The leaden air of cafes at dawn;
Striking even his face, which is him no more.
He had transformed completely
Into an emotion, encircled in the square,
Into a vast nose,
Like a dream distended,
Out of control.
Like schoolboy and schoolgirl
We walked the pavement
Along the wall,
We stretched our legs out in the sun
Barefoot, like a morning off.
In short clothes,
And four legs
And us not knowing, my angel, what to make from all this
Nor how the others do it.
We have talk,
Always heading in the direction that embarrasses us,
And we’re unable to hold out our hands
To tell it, “Not this way,”
And in truth, nor do we wish to,
Because we—what can I say?—
We know how impossible that is
And this is what intoxicates us,
This is what stretches out our tongues to lick
The last piece of chocolate.
Let them wait on us, my angel,
In the cinema,
In the garden of innocent friendship,
In the house built on sighs:
We are utterly lost,
You and I.
Like schoolboy and schoolgirl
We place a wetted finger
On the pages of the novels;
Our lives and weep because
The heart turns counter to the clock.
Who’s with us?
A game of love in the guise of a locomotive.
On edge beneath the smoke,
We feel a pain in the brakes;
Two faces out the window
Roaring at each station
And the hankies, bidding both farewell,
Rising and falling.
Suitcase of duties shaking in my hand:
Each time I crossed a street
Thinking, “Who am I?”
It was as though I were you
Without my knowing why.
Under my pillow
And my false dreams;
I reach out in my sleep:
In our old house in Alexandria
I took my leave of the old Royal Poinciana
With the red flowers,
And in Los Angeles
Was caught off-guard by three more
With purple blooms, younger,
And still white in recollection,
Which hung out over each morning through the windowpane,
Swaying with the motion of the wind,
Appearing and vanishing like a child’s face.
At last a visitor had come to them with ties to that line
That branched out anciently across the land
From a single equatorial seed;
I came to remind them of their lost inheritance from that moneyed clan
That disbursed its shade without thought to cost
And spread the ground beneath the feet of low-born men with coloured carpets,
As they trod their daily paths,
Till they thought themselves on course to take a prize.
Sadness treks from spot to spot,
And wears a new colour every time.
I see my house in that German village,
I see myself climbing the stairs and descending dozens of times
To rock my worry;
Cups of coffee, their odour nailed onto the walls
Like a living Christ without resurrection or sacrifice,
The wheat fields, which have crept into the house
And sprouted between the squares of damp tile
And dozens of black starlings
Drawn up in lines behind the glass.
My house was a season of harvesting
The rare grains
That I brought with me from Alexandria
And scattered, day after day,
In idle hours, at work,
In all the corners that my eye roamed round
Like a peasant’s rough palm sowing seed,
A pilgrim circling a sacred precinct.
I see the long empty hours
With me sitting on the sofa watching the rain,
The hours, not all of which I filled with memories,
Holes in the weave of days and months,
Channels for the guttering rains
Soaked up by the ground
And vanishing beneath a muddy layer of woe;
Somewhere inside me
Was a Nile, sprawling out
And peasants, who sat with me at eventide.