There, and other poems by Mohab Nasr
Ten new poems by Mohab Nasr, as yet unpublished.
I nod my head
When I can’t see what else to do,
As though assenting to something said,
As though politely stepping aside,
As though someone trod on my foot
And it would be a disgrace not to accept his apology,
As though I were in a hotel,
And must show courtesy;
As though living out a life entire.
I don’t know what others do.
Do they wave their hands to signal, Certainly… Of course…?
Do they wink
As though complicit in a secret?
Do they throw one leg over the other
And take turns smoking
With persons yet unborn?
Where we come from clouds collect on canvases
That adorn solitary rooms,
Rain reaches us
Like unconfirmed reports,
Our ears pressed against the windows,
Unable to say, Enough…
From time to time we hear of countries where
Of heads that whisper back and forth beneath umbrellas
Because the rain there is for real
“So they say”
Till one weeps
Just to think of it.
For a long time I longed to be a writer,
To grasp any old idea like a doorknob and say, “Come in…”
With the slight bow of one who shows self-confidence
Without having to prove it;
I was a complete disaster
And they’d urge me on by feigning wonder.
They loathed me, of course,
And I knew it
And that is what ensured everyone was happy.
Claim your freedom
At a certain step on the stairway,
At a sudden change in key,
At a bow-stroke
That snags two strings,
Before everything falls quiet.
The seats in a patch of darkness
And you alone
Beneath the light,
One blind man speaking to another
With a sudden smoker’s cough from the back of the hall,
With a future about to be born,
Like a massacre.
Claim your freedom!
The way music does…
A regret freeing our hands,
A deep blow,
A bouquet on an abandoned stage,
All now ideas,
A lone cough from the back of the hall.
“…and she said to him, also: Oh, Pierre!”
It’s a line from a novel,
The novel whose cover I look at now:
A grass-choked fence
And a shoeprint in the earth
Then the name of an author I don’t know
An authoress, perhaps…
They used to say things like this in novels
And draw covers, too,
With a burning imagination,
And we would look at the fence,
And close our eyes as though in
Anticipation of a kiss,
Some of us wouldn’t sleep
Because the shoe that left its traces in the soil
Had just that minute quit the scene,
And a phrase that ended with a sign: No.
My God, how powerless we were,
Before this fence
And unable ever to be there.
That’s how we grew,
Waiting for a novel,
Waiting for someone who’d cry, Come!
Then close the covers over us.
Sometimes I head over to his office
Intending to scream,
And since he foresees this
He leaves the door always open,
Does not take shelter behind anything,
Commits no gaucherie
Like drumming his finger on the table,
Or pretending to read,
Or swiveling in his chair
As though to shame me with a life that lets a man turn.
Even once I’ve actually opened my mouth,
Even once there’s no going back,
He’s already found the right word,
As though it had never occurred to me
That this was what I wanted: The right word.
After each powerful emotion
Comes the smell of the sea,
The hand blistered by ropes,
The rot of seaweed in the shallows,
A whistling from water in the ears,
A bare chest,
Not a word.
I sleep and in my mouth
The bitter taste of rescue:
My bare foot
Can only cope with the split shoes
That let my toes express their vexation.
Smoking in the room
Brings back my dreams to me
In the guise of heads that lean in
And whisper gossip…
So… Now I must work,
Must make money,
Must say, Welcome,
As I open the door,
Must go out to demonstrate
At the end of the working day,
Must scream, Where is justice?
Must demand new shoes
Whose squeaking gives me away at night
When I try to flee.
Life, it seems, passes quickly,
But compared to what?
We knew a man who’d say
That he had friends in every corner of the world
But we did not know
What he meant by world.
We were certain he only left his flat
For his café
And we’d say, He’s very much alone,
Would whisper it,
Because the loneliness made cowards of us,
And because, for us, his fantasy
Was confusing and humiliating,
He, who would shake hands with us,
Leaving in our palms the heat of other lands.
In my short life
I’ve slept and woken, thousands of hours,
And in between
The sun’s risen and set
And gentle breezes
Have brushed the frieze on the balcony
Where a man rests on his elbow
Watching what’s going on down below.
Sometimes words would reach me,
And sometimes a whole year’s worth of rains would go by.
Abed I’d wonder,
Are they still downstairs?
Sometimes there’s a strange movement next door
And I hear the groan of wood being dragged
And something like a whisper: Here, here…
Humans have strange habits,
My father himself used to speak of countries where days drag out
Until eyes blister
And lands where night runs on till
People howl like wolves,
And I’d pout as though I didn’t care.
Now, I’m not sure.
“You, whom my sorrow grieved…”
Simply by imagining a new life
I recall better,
Place words that were spoken
On other tongues,
And faces with precision.
Even my mother gazes distractedly
Where d’you get these lies from…?
That she’s started to believe,
So much so that
She lets me read old letters,
And behind the door
I hear her sing, “You, whom my sorrow grieved…”
The ones who lean their heads in
To let you know they loved their childhoods very much,
Who rise to greet you warmly
As though apologizing for something,
Who strike their brows
Because you remind them of people
Who’ve passed by this very place,
People who never existed or,
Shall we say,
Don’t resemble you in the slightest,
Who point with their fingers
“Here… and here”
To show they’ve lost teeth just like you
And even have to avoid certain words
So as not to risk ridicule,
The ones who don’t wait for you to stand up when they say goodbye,
Before you’ve tossed your cigarette
Their shadowed forms become a dream,
The ones who never sign their names
As though provoking you to theft.
All of them… they were lying, of course,
And this is what you shall never admit to,
Proving it’s a matter that touches on honour.