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Live Encounters Arab Poets in Translation August 2023
What if I died alone at night? poems by Ahmad Al-Shahawy.
What if I died alone at night?
When I enter my house
No name there will be waiting at the door
Neither for me nor for my other many faces
Nor will the cats of the past come
Back to check on me
There is nothing but a high pressure
Sitting on a chair
And an anxiety rocking on a second chair
And at most dull poetry.
From now on, the likes of me have to control themselves
So that the head does not explode
And in order not to clot my brain
In the moment when doubt
Flows into the sea of mistrust
And lest the poet’s brain goes
And the blood balls do not pour
On the rock of the Nile Sea.
What if I died alone at night?
Who will shroud my language?
Who will stop the tears of the awaking
Books on my head?
Who will indoctrinate talqeen* my poetry
The testimony that I was without trees
Growing in my palms?
What if the stress hit my brain?
Will this disturb the balance of the earth?
Will the birds who lived on the rhythm
Of my words die?
What if death dared to sit on
The edge of my chair
And wrote me a merciless death speech
With no deferment?
Who will lay out the divine tablet on the chest?
Who will arrange my journey
For eternal oblivion?
Nothing but two eyes from the shadow
Nothing but ruins from the scents
Nothing but insomnia deaf to the sound
Of my sleep
Nothing but the wind carrying
No hope of a cure for high blood pressure.
Will the poet have time
To finish his writing?
Or to end the biography
Of the cycle of silkworms?
I only find crosses carrying
The corpses of words
And dying flowers
And butterflies going to the way of death
And women who had returned to enter
The shrouds alone
Adjusting the rhythm on the cadence of the spelled blood
Nothing but blood trees
I sit under continuously dropping fruits
As if I were Adam leaving her Eden
Or let’s say: as if I were Abel without a woman
Kindling her flower before the blood flows.
Who will hide from the hands of men
My treasury of secrets?
My head is compressed
My heart is more stressed
And my sky is a cascade of sentences with
And absent indexes of nouns
When I enter my house
Ants walk in my brain.
Fire runs below me
And a rusty saw chops
The tissues in my brain.
The night strips me of my medals
I remain in the wandering like an isolated
King robbed of grammar
And walking naked without secrets from my fantasy
There is no power and no strength in me
Except two carats of despair
And an acre of trees of the two brothers’ blood
And a basket filled with joining words
Which I am not good at aptly exploiting
In a text.
* Talqeen: in Islam is performed for those who are dying to ensure
they are spiritually ready for the journey into death.
For a woman to get off in the middle of the road
Do not blame
Do not strain your soul
That the star will fall in its mirror
That a Passage opened for others
That you see a black face in your mirror
That you do not ask Jesus to revive your dead
That you do not weave a secret from flimsy thread
That you do not beg a memory out of forgetfulness
That you do not light a fire in the desert of autumn
That you do not milk a bull’s cloud in a dead night
That you do not write in meter and retire from music
That you do not fall like a wise man
That you do not pray to God to be saved from the shining of the divine union
That you do not climb up a mulberry tree to cover a woman’s nakedness with a leaf
That you do not dig into the language further than the silence digs
That you do not fancy a moon that towers over you
It is actually a drop of blood
That you do not enslave a woman’s name in a text you write
To be immortalized
That you do not be ashamed of being defeated in the grass
As a hollow cloud
That you do not open a blind door
That you do not consume ink in praise of a woman
Who picks your mistakes as grapes for an open
Tattoos in my Brain
I hate tattoos
(What is apparent and what is hidden)
But when I wake up
I saw my head full of tattoos
I thought it was ephemeral drawings
But, it is an enslaving snake
It commands and terminates
It eats from my food
It steals me every second
It strips the soul of its flight
It holds me in one direction
It vanquishes and subdues
It insinuates me for wrong acts
Till I became a guard of doubt
In my country
Till I doubted my fingers
When it plays in the void
And it became a stranger to me.
I came near my right hand
And I saw myself writing history
In a blink of my eyelids
Needles are in my head cells
Like rain falling
And the lightning tattooed in it
I did not ask for an amendment
I did not go to specific decorations
A mercenary army attacked me
I do not know where it came from
What I know is that I tattooed my
Sins on my palm
A tattoo that does not resemble any other
Lest I forget that I committed a mistake
And that I have darkened myself so much
I-the one- who despaired Satan
And when he returned as
A night woodcutter
The mind was like a tombstone
He controlled me
And in my silence I write
My love for the world.
I begged the ants to intercede for me
And I am the one who lived to build one
House after another for them
I do not treat myself with tattoos
Like my ancestors
And I don’t need magic
Because I’m looking for me
In an extinct volcano
And I am not the slave who runs
Away from those who tattooed his face
But I became a university of slaves
In a name for me.
Ahmad Al-Shahawy is an Egyptian poet and author of more than 20 books and poetry collections. His poems have been translated into many languages including French, Italian, English, Turkish and Spanish. He participated in many international poetry festivals organized in many countries of the world. Al-Shahawy was also the recipient of UNESCO literature award in 1995, and Cavafy Poetry award in 1998. Four of his literary works were nominated in the long list of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in the branch of literature including his novel The Magician’s Hijab, 2022. Also, Lavender Ink / Diálogos published Al-Shahawy’s poetry anthology entitled Alone by the Nile, 2023.