Download PDF Here Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Sept-October 2022.
The Competition, poems by Nagat Ali.
Translated from Arabic by Nariman Youssef.
She did not curse her, never, on the contrary, she
recognised her misery. Her beautiful adversary,
who watches from centimeters away, with a sharp
gaze, and prepares for the next round to win back
the precious prey. She was like her in everything;
the deep eyes, the senses damaged by love, the
body blinded. But anyway, she, her adversary, was
more innocent and wrote no poetry.
I like these tombs dark and noiseless, where I can
roam at leisure, covering distances and killing time
in my own way. I can, for instance,
enjoy the company of the dead, ʻMy fatherʼs
good neighbors. They –only they – do not
interrupt when I talk about him, when I dig their
graves in search of his body, for often I tried to
guess the spot where I had buried him, to see
what remained, when I came to visit him on
Saturdays in the winter, the winter that he too
had loved – although he
died without telling me anything about the purpose
of my existence in this filthy place. He in fact gave
no clear answers whenever I pressed him about
anything, and I inherited nothing but a handful of
obsessions, and a few old commandments that my
brothers – with amazing consistency – keep
hanging next to his big portrait on the walls of the
house. For years I confidently awaited the fall of the
commandments and his picture and the walls.
Would you believe: one wish only occupies me. do
you want to know what it is?
To lose consciousness – if only for a few minutes –
then to wake up and find the boy who betrayed me
– shamelessly – a decomposing body beneath my
feet, the bones of his skull devoured by these
hordes of ants that crawl after me to devour me too;
and to forget that old man after whom I ran
tirelessly for five long years – in the hope that he
would love me. He really did resemble my father,
the scratch marks he left on my breast confirmed it.
I know I have ruined your solitude with useless
disturbing chatter, but we could still talk about better
things, a less painful subject.
We could talk for instance about the spiders
that swarm around me, whose dreary caves
I shall enter to discover why they have eluded me
for so long, to watch the ruins of ancient skeletons
and the snakes ringing their bells in my head. Talking
about spiders has great advantages that the likes of you
do not appreciate, known only to my friends, who are fools
and poets all. I follow their movements with mounting
enthusiasm now; they are predominantly triangular and black,
and never look at me when I ʻcallʼ them. I am happy
when I sense the movement of the fallen in the
battlefield of life or when I see the ones lying still in
glass-covered coffins. Poor spiders indeed. They are
honoured by no one so far, not even me.
It is enough for me then to observe – in ecstasy –
those scorpions taking their time to sting me. Naked
of everything but this whiteness that surrounds me,
I observe, and receive the successive stings with an
open mind that you envy me for. Although you, like
me, wake up to this nothingness with no beginning
and no end, and to these indolent eyes, and this
body stretched out alone in the dark, and this
silence weighing on the chest.
Maybe I have now become a ghost capable of
moving lightly in the dark and avoiding the old
furniture that filled the house and made a
great graveyard of it. I will be content with the virtue
of lies that I have earned and will praise
my sitting here among the bats that drop from
neighbouring ruins, and strive towards the much-
discussed inferno, and eavesdrop suspiciously
on those who say ʻIf you learn too much you lose all
your intense passionsʼ. Maybe because I no longer
trust anyone. I will try then to wipe away this dust
accumulating on the walls and caress the snakes
that ring their loud bells, then inscribe my name on
water and fake things to make them more beautiful.
And naturally I will rise above all the red stains that
made a bloody creature of me, and I will pity no
one, not because pity is linked to nihilism – as they
say – or because it leads nowhere, but because I
donʼt see it as a virtue in the first place. I will go
back to my solitude and become more ferocious
and crueler, even though the light in my room has
dimmed considerably. I will listen only to heavy
hammer blows while wiping away the painful stories
that flow from my head. No sense in talking about
them now; they will turn into pitiful jokes and
take us nowhere.
So, I will entertain myself by watching – just
watching – these coffins after failing to become
even a cemetery guard. You will see with your
eyes my real features and know that words are the
least deceptive of mirrors. With you I will be
released from my body, this ʻmoveable graveʼ. Believe me when I tell you openly that I am like you,
I have share fingernails that will soon deface you. I
will scream as I remove my lover’s picture, now a
terrifying skeleton, and then destroy my senses as I
must do to become all-seeing and all-knowing.
I will see my hanging body half-Christ and half-
Judas and, like you, will mock all the tragedies of
life and confidently repeat ʻWhat doesn’t kill me
makes me strongerʼ. I will laugh contemptuously at
that drunkard – who is rarely awake –
when he calls to me from the next room, and will
proudly tell him how I have become like grave
worms that turn on each other after feeding off
a lifeless corpse.
© Nagat Ali
Nagat Ali is an Egyptian poet, essayist and a literary critic. She has published the poetry collections Cracked Wall (2009), Like the Blade of a Knife (2010), A Superstitious Creature Adores Garrulousness (2002), Glass Tombs (2019). Ali has written about the Arabic Spring in her book The Road to Tahrir Square: Daily Life During the Egyptian revolution (2019).