Seven poems by Malaka Badr

by qisasukhra

New poems by Malaka Badr, who has previously published one collection, the excellent دون خسائر فادحة (Merit, 2012) [Without Heavy Losses], bits of which appeared in English in Maged Zaher’s selection of seven Egyptian poets’ works, The Tahrir of Poems (Alice Blue Books, 2014). The poems below are from an as yet unpublished collection. One of these poems, in Arabic, and not translated here, can be found here.



are time bombs

disguised unwittingly as

oxygen cylinders


to help the cramped souls




The plastic oxygen mask

Death’s last, romantic kiss

gobbles mouth and nose

stops your soul from stepping into day,

instead of gifting you





Pleasant thoughts for getting rid of rage

I have rage enough to burn the city

and murder its inhabitants

individually, each a different way,

with blithe delight unspoiled by guilt.

Rage enough

to make me wish harm even

on bothersome kids,

the elderly, the living dead,

and the embittered, determined to preach their message.

Rage enough

to rip paving stones from the sidewalks

and kick cats in their bellies

and pop the spots on my neighbour’s face

and smash the streetlamps,

the ones that never light up when you need them.

Rage enough to enjoy

devising new and twisted ways to kill,

to key cars’ paintwork till they bleed

and their alarms plead with me to stop,

to scatter the papers on my boss’s desk,

pour the steaming cup of coffee onto colleagues’ heads,

aim stones at the cameras mounted

over the heads of us all.

I’ve rage enough

to turn the cruellest insults on the world,

tell each and every one of them just what they’re like,

break off my relationship with the boy,

and nail friends’ bodies to

the doors of Downtown’s historic buildings,

sipping my coffee by the clotting gore.


I have rage enough to destroy the world entire

and all the cowardice I need to not kill myself first.



Negotiating over a piece of Belgian chocolate

Relationships are complex as you know

and the only guarantee of never-ending is

a ring with a ∞ on it

We hug one another with the reserve of those who fear desire,

avoid eye-to-eye

As though all those hash-cut cigarettes

were not enough

we spend a half hour talking politics

contrive a feeble conversation

about What’s politics, really?

The chocolate wasn’t bad

My way to settle the nerves

was to break the piece into smaller pieces

and turn them slowly round my tongue

to stop myself kissing you in front of twenty people, perhaps

A few nights later

returning to that desecrated acreage called

The Homeland

I would hand out cheap chocolate to friends

and quit smoking hash

to quench

the eternal desire to kiss strangers



The life cycle of bread mould

rubbish bags pile up

no cats visit the dusty hall outside the flat

after three turns about the key

sways a little and stills, gazing to tomorrow

the neighbours are tired of spying

there’s truly nothing for them there


my mother’s cactus died three days after she went away

and the mould inched onto the fresh bread

watching me through the lost hours

and coupling with the sawdust-dotted flour


I’d have three molars out if I went to the dentist since I’ve

neglected two worms of decay

that, tunnelling through my heart, were on their way up to my mouth

the room is grey and full of cigarette smoke

the cancer cells busy in my breasts cough

my eyes rain tears

and the face, acned by experience, is untroubled


the bedsheet’s yellow

wherever I go

I leave crumbs of kohl behind


and the heartbroken, or

those grown tired of loving unto death


each morning

I turn the key against the clock hands’ sweep

reach out to touch the lock

locked shut last night

without a glance

I draw it back disappointed

the door is open


no time to gather up the rubbish bags

no cats outside to pet

and whatever it was that opened the lock from within

must keep watering the dead cactus



Things aren’t right

Friends pass before me bloodless.

Things aren’t right.

In plain view

a mangy dog sniffs at a featureless corpse

in the street.

The pedestrians are comfortable with hideous

and beauty hurts,

stirs their survival instinct and

they kill it,

or pull their crude blades and carve it up.

Over our heads the coffins float

like saints’ haloes.

When the moment’s right

one of us will raise his hand aloft

as though groping for a bus strap

and the circle will clamp round his rough hand

and next thing we shall see him swaddled in a coffin,

cheerful, saying: I beat you to it,

I left you trapped on the list of

Bastards in the Making.

Things aren’t right at all

and the sound of gunfire frightens nobody no more.

Yesterday a car and driver went up in flames before us

and the street was impassable

with packed spectators.

I pass by the blackened form today

and the wretched owl

—even the owls are wretched here—

recoils from plucking at the charred flesh

and leaves to look for other bodies in the trash.


Things aren’t right, believe me:

don’t put yourself to the trouble

of leaving your coffin,

of coming home.




When I got back

I emptied my case of travel clothes,

frantically tossed out everything inside,

rummaged through its contents, eager, aching,

and a familiar hole punched through the soul’s wall over and again.

I gave a half-groan,

a hill of stones over my lungs:

you were not there

in my case.


A single moment trained us

to the love of fear,

to be on terms with sudden terror

and the voice

which woke us both

halted the nightmare that ran on without commercial breaks,

drove us to embrace a new religion called

Good morning.


My smell is your smell,

yours is mine.

After one long night,

each minute drawn out by the Good Lord’s grace,

the smell will lift out of our cases,

twist our guts,

frolic across the ceilings of our separate rooms

and draw a Mappus Mundi clear above us

before we tuck it, rolled into a plump limb, under our arms,

and the heads go down upon it to sleep

with incomplete desire.