There, and other poems by Mohab Nasr

by qisasukhra

Ten new poems by Mohab Nasr, as yet unpublished.

There

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;

In short:

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

Things happen,

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

This happens

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 fingertips,

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,

Squashed butts,

All now ideas,

Smoke…

A lone cough from the back of the hall.

*****

“…and she said to him, also: Oh, Pierre!”

That’s right,

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…

Just think!

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,

Reading

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:

Now what?

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.

*****

A song

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,

I know

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,

Meaning:

Invent,

Place words that were spoken

On other tongues,

Describe smells

And faces with precision.

Even my mother gazes distractedly

And asks,

Where d’you get these lies from…?

Showing

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.

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