Selections from Mina Nagy’s collection أسبوع الآلام [Passion Week], published in PDF format and available in its entirety here, with cover and layout by Youssef Rakha. As Mina explains in the foreword, the poems follow the pattern of the Coptic liturgy for Passion Week, or Holy Week as it’s otherwise known, hence the headings. The Common Burial Prayer is a mass funeral rite for all those who die during the course of the week. Mina has also published another poetry collection entitled سحر حقيقي (Dar Al Ain, 2011) [A Real Magic] and a short story collection الجندب يلهو حرا في شوارع القاهرة (Dar Kalima, 2013) [The grasshopper frolics free in the streets of Cairo]
From the Common Burial Prayer
I say to thee:
Fish, our opportunities let slip,
That we hook on Time’s angle;
Clutching them in our hands, aquiver,
We gaze into their half-dead eyes
On the verge of tears
At our faces’ misery mirrored back
Then cast them into the water
And start to weep, for real.
Fish, our wretched thoughts
Agleam with scales that leave them gnarled
That nearly block the blood vessels to our brains;
Just once, we wish, they’d throw up a ring
Or spare us the taste of salt water in our throats.
Fish. Our drowned souls.
I say to thee:
Alone we are alone and all around us, alone.
For a moment, coming back from the car, I rejoiced, because the dead do not remember something they’ve forgotten and so return, place key in keyhole and check their hair lies smooth before the mirror. My God! The air’s on fire. Weather fit for meeting an ex-lover and shaking her by the hand, for pondering life’s meaning as you stroll, for laughter, for pain. I want to be in shirt and trousers, leg up on the wall around a lift shaft, penning a verse with soft, beautiful hair and beside me, bottles of milk; to get angry at the world and sometimes say, “Fuck life.” So hot, dear God! When will mercy come? All I hear in my veins is s c r e a m i n g.
Colour should get stronger in the weave, not run.
Things should pull together when the world falls down and falls apart.
The trees’ green, too, bleeds from the edge of the leaves. The trunks’ veins twist and overlay each other in the air.
The clouds are not in their heavens but run along a brute wall before me, shape forms ceaselessly falling away.
The searchlight shines its light within—I cannot kill these forms or check their collapse.
From some unseen place the cup spills out hot water—a wingless butterfly flits with a frightening whine.
Light piles on the table. Sounds beats the ceiling and rains in pieces on my head.
S c r e a m i n g
They say my brain’s gone on vacation. The clock’s hands and calendar play their guessing game with me and I lose every time.
Love is now a universe entire inside my head.
I feel a great emptiness that makes me fill the void in my head with vast quantities of liquid soap.
Some bastard outside daubs a weeping animal on the wall. I poke my head out of the window.
S c r e a m i n g
Returning from a distant trail. Oh, hope! I saw eleven planets and…
S c r e a m i n g
The one who taught me that identity’s a trap
Said the solution to my agony would be to be another person
And doesn’t think that I would want that.
I didn’t tell him: I hate myself,
But rather, faintly hoarse,
That I was not as wedded to my identity
As he might suppose.
His voice on the phone was like someone murmuring to a songbird,
Telling me Von Trier suffers just the same but lives with it and works on.
After ending the call, my hands on the wheel,
A facetious question comes to mind:
“So does your arm hurt you very much, Von Trier my boy?”
I feel that my life is as temporary,
Long and tiring as the days of the Great Fast.
A man, passed out in the street. His elderly friends swap worried looks, check pulse, grip arm. My friend and I for the hundredth and tenth time trying to get a hand on forgetfulness through the warring smoke, sitting, the café’s clear glass between us and the man, his friends attempting to massage his chest; one showing signs of alarm. I make an effort to pull myself together and write. They failed to revive him and at the arrival of a doctor—sitting by chance nearby—picked him up and left. In hash rapture my friend sung to me a song of the innocent refused entry at the gates of the world. Let us pray, that the stockpile not burn.
We woke today
But we fought to the last.
We did not play by the rules;
The rules played with us.
We’re the ones who run from the megastores,
Who run from revolutions of the masses,
From the malls,
We’re the ones who fear the moving moon,
Who yank down the corpse’s underwear at the crime scene
So it may be witnessed as fully as can be,
The ones who hate themselves
And their lives,
Who love life greatly;
We wait for our friends to cease loving those who pass through their lives
That we might;
We are the ones who die each day.
Suddenly, fire flares in veins.
The runner thinks he’s pulled a muscle,
The dancer that he’s dizzy:
That’s why the earth has lurched beneath his feet.
But it’s an earthquake:
I’m in and out of bars that pump music at folk that pay it no mind,
The terror of streetlights
And people I don’t know,
The terror of being trapped indoors
In monasteries pitch-black by night
And the moon, full;
The sensation that a time of terror has been ushered in
In war with hidden enemies
Is truer than this table and your two hands…
I tried Christianity without Christ
Faith without god
Sex without love
Love without a lover
Lovers without affection and
None of it was beautiful to me
Or sated my soul.
I live to tell
But have nothing to tell
But pain and grief
In anticipation of my tale.
I go from room to room
Searching for a window from which to flee
But have found nothing till now;
Soon I will despair,
Yet perhaps, at the hundredth attempt
I’ll chance across a crack in a wall.
Let us attack meaning and violate it,
Flay the straight course,
Make for a new horizon.
My first day out I’ll fetch me a parrot.
One of the laws of piracy that I’ll lay down: No respect for the clever cheat or the noble fool.
Another: There shall be no religious symbols on board my ship, other than diamond crosses and captured priests.
Another: Women are common property of the crew, with the exception of mine.
Another: It is forbidden to kill except in battle or in self-defence; whosoever kills otherwise shall be thrown into the sea forthwith.
Another: Music shall be performed live except in rare cases; sad and sentimental whining shall be forbidden and any man on board who listens to such shall have his neck broken.
Another: There shall be no clocks on the ship nor anything that tells the time.
We shall not play by the rules
We shall play with them.