Poems by Mohab Nasr and Alaa Khaled

by qisasukhra

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.

She knew

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,

A symbol

Of disgrace

That we could discuss

As though we really meant it.


Apple garden



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.

Each morning

Ascending with razor and coming down singing,

A peasant on his way to the fields,

While she…

She was under the warm covers

Listening to this gathering of hay

And thinking

To bear him a dog

To guard him from the thieves of joy.


A point of view


He strikes his thigh

And rises

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

Your fingers,

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.

Eyes closed,

As though his eyes were somewhere else:

“Who are we?”

“Who am I and who are you?”

Smoke here,

Smoke there,

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.


My angel


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,

Four arms

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;

We read

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.

We sneeze,

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.

My angel,

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.

Your life

Under my pillow

And my false dreams;

I reach out in my sleep:

Help me…




Royal Poinciana


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.


From afar


From afar

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.