Seven poems by Malaka Badr
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 The poems below are from an as yet unpublished collection.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
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.
to make me wish harm even
on bothersome kids,
the elderly, the living dead,
and the embittered, determined to preach their message.
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,
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
I would hand out cheap chocolate to friends
and quit smoking hash
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
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
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.