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in the night

listen to echoed moans as they fall

in the depths of the dark, in the still, on the dead

voices rise, voices clash

sadness flows, catches fire

echoed cries, stuttered cries

every heart boils with heat

silent hut wracked with sobs

spirits scream through the dark everywhere

voices weep everywhere

this is what death has done

they are dead, they are dead, they are dead

let the strained Nile lament over what death has done

in the dawn

listen to passing feet as they fall

in the still of the dawn, watch and hear the procession of tears

ten are dead, twenty dead

countless dead, hear the tears

hear the pitiful child

they are dead, many lost

they are dead, there is no future left

bodies strewn everywhere, everywhere the bereaved

not a moment to mourn, not a pause

this is death’s handiwork

they are dead, they are dead, they are dead,

all humanity suffers the crimes death commits


lies with corpses in terrible caves

death becomes medicine for eternity’s hush

cholera lies awake

unavenged, overflowing with hate

pouring over the Delta’s sweet soil

crying out, agitated, insane

it is deaf to the voices that mourn

as its talons leave scars everywhere

in the poor peasant’s shack, in the landowner’s house

nothing but cries of death, pouring out,

they are dead, they are dead, they are dead

as death takes its revenge wearing cholera’s face

silence, still

nothing left but the trace of Allahu akbar

as the gravedigger too lies in eternal sleep

there is no one to help

the muezzin is dead

who will eulogize them?

nothing left now but shuddering sobs

the poor child has no mother, no dad

and tomorrow disease will no doubt snatch him too

evil cholera, what have you done?

you’ve left nothing in Egypt but sadness and death

they are dead, they are dead, they are dead

this is what death has done, and my heart is in shreds

New Year

New Year, don't come to our homes, for we are wanderers

from a ghost-world, denied by man.

Night flees from us, fate has deserted us

We live as wandering spirits

with no memory

no dreams, no longings, no hopes.

The horizons of our eyes have grown ashen

the gray of a still lake,

like our silent brows,

pulseless, heatless,

denuded of poetry.

We live not knowing life.

New Year, move on. There is the path

to lead your footsteps.

Ours are veins of hard reed,

and we know not of sadness.

We wish to be dead, and refused by the graves.

We wish to write history by the years

If only we knew what it is to be bound to a place

If only snow could bring us winter

to wrap our faces in darkness

If only memory, or hope, or regret

could one day block our country from its path

If only we feared madness

If only our lives could be disturbed by travel

or shock,

or the sadness of an impossible love.

If only we could die like other people.

Translated from Arab by Rebecca Carol Johnson

Elegy for a Woman of No Importance

She died, but no lips shook, no cheeks turned white

no doors heard her death tale told and retold,

no blinds were raised for small eyes to behold

the casket as it disappeared from sight.

Only a beggar in the street, consumed

by hunger, heard the echo of her life—

the safe forgetfulness of tombs,

the melancholy of the moon.

The night gave way to morning thoughtlessly,

and light brought with it sound—boys throwing stones,

a hungry, mewling cat, all skin and bones,

the vendors fighting, clashing bitterly,

some people fasting, others wanting more,

polluted water gurgling, and a breeze

playing, alone, upon the door

having almost forgotten her.

Love Song for Words

Why do we fear words

when they have been rose-palmed hands,

fragrant, passing gently over our cheeks,

and glasses of heartening wine

sipped, one summer, by thirsty lips?

Why do we fear words

when among them are words like unseen bells,

whose echo announces in our troubled lives

the coming of a period of enchanted dawn,

drenched in love, and life?

So why do we fear words?

We took pleasure in silence.

We became still, fearing the secret might part our lips.

We thought that in words laid an unseen ghoul,

crouching, hidden by the letters from the ear of time.

We shackled the thirsty letters,

we forbade them to spread the night for us

as a cushion, dripping with music, dreams,

and warm cups.

Why do we fear words?

Among them are words of smooth sweetness

whose letters have drawn the warmth of hope from two lips,

and others that, rejoicing in pleasure

have waded through momentary joy with two drunk eyes.

Words, poetry, tenderly

turned to caress our cheeks, sounds

that, asleep in their echo, lies a rich color, a rustling,

a secret ardor, a hidden longing.

Why do we fear words?

If their thorns have once wounded us,

then they have also wrapped their arms around our necks

and shed their sweet scent upon our desires.

If their letters have pierced us

and their face turned callously from us

Then they have also left us with an oud in our hands

And tomorrow they will shower us with life.

So pour us two full glasses of words!

Tomorrow we will build ourselves a dream-nest of words,

high, with ivy trailing from its letters.

We will nourish its buds with poetry

and water its flowers with words.

We will build a balcony for the timid rose

with pillars made of words,

and a cool hall flooded with deep shade,

guarded by words.

Our life we have dedicated as a prayer

To whom will we pray . . . but to words?