May 27, 2022

Hope Dissidents - tr. Sara Elkamel

 When we die,

the cemetery keeper tires
of surveilling our graves’ windows.

We trace the memory of rain —

but it dances in the distance
where the lilies quake the earth
until its dreams unwind.

When my grandfather burned his cave,
the demons came out to meet him
with wedding preparations.

And as the dream verged on a nightmare,
he danced; my mother’s tail
bowing to the nudeness of silence.

I have resigned myself to hymns,
unlike my grandfather;
winter villages ignite in his heart
every bakery, a long way
from the sounds of hope.

Our roof embraces a crew
of honorable dead people.

Near the bends of light
my grandmother briefly abandons her modesty
to bake the past’s dough
for a Reader of Nostalgia,
who takes everything she wants from her
yet prescribes she swallow
more sadness
for her grandchildren’s sake.

That’s why, grandmother,
don’t approach the catacombs of hope;
we are but its dissidents.

* Published in GUERNICA magazine. 

Four poems - tr: Sara Elkamel

The Migrant Poet Slaughters His Voice

One scorching summer
—warmer than the previous summer,
and cooler than the next—
the poet journeyed from the upper south
to the lower south.

He descended, and at the fringe of a rock,
slaughtered his voice. Just like that, calmly,
his narrow eyes squinting in distress.
He did not read Al-Fatiha, nor did he pledge
this sacrifice to Allah.

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

He hauls a mountain from the slopes of California,
and flings it into the Gulf of Mexico
before it floats, once again, atop an oil pipeline.

Every morning, I wake up to his voice;
I slam the window in its face, and go back to sleep.
I let him jumble the clocks, talk to me about the prose poem—
how it stands like a bare trunk, interrupting the horizon:
They have stolen our music

and nothing's left but the voice
that reaches me across time zones
afflicted with insomnia, burdened with beginnings,
stuck—like an eternal cry—
in the chasm of time.