Translated by the poet and Radwa Ashour


Transparent, crystalline and frail,
like the slumber of woodcutters,
serene, auspicious,  portending things to come,
the morning drizzle does not conceal
these three cypresses on the slope.

Their particulars details belie their sameness
their radiance confirms it.

I said:
I wouldn’t dare to keep looking at them
there is a beauty that takes away our daring
there are times when courage fades away

The clouds rolling / scudding moving high above
change the form of the cypresses.

The birds flying to wards alternative skies
change the resonance of the cypresses

The tiled line behind them
fixes the greenness of the cypresses
and there are trees whose only fruit is greenness.

Yesterday, in my sudden cheerfulness,
I saw their immortality.

Today, in my sudden sorrow,
I saw the axe.


With small shovels
and plastic buckets
the kids
in their colourful clothes
are building strong sand castles.

They throw balls in a game without rules
they shout, call names, laugh,
get scratched in short inevitable clashes
Complaints are also inevitable:
“Why did you leave me alone?”
“Why don’t you leave me alone?”

They squat on the boards, in a flash,
then stand upright, in a flash,
to make the swing fly higher and higher.

They invent their sudden demands:
a glass of water,
a cry for help, soon forgotten,
a napkin
a look at the miracle about to take place,
“Watch what I am going to do now!
“Watch me jump!”

In the half circle of benches around the park,
on wooden seats
that have almost lost their cumin-coloured paint   
mothers and grandmothers in their drab clothes
turn up their collars
to avoid a gust of cold wind
or with silent fingers
straighten their wrinkled worries.

And from time to time
trying to overcome their boredom
they exchange the latest news
in low voices.

They send their kids a caring smile
an encouraging look
or an instructive gesture.

A big-bellied cat with heavy steps
moves around, as if lost, looking for something.
A string of birds, silent, moves slowly
like a column of prisoners of war.

Dark clouds pile up above the scene
a small sun keeps on trying

A loud weeping
comes from the sand kingdom,
A kid shouts in the face of everyone:
the castle has fallen


Waiting for the school bus,
watching his breath turn into mist near his nose
in the freezing morning,
the schoolboy tries to make a fist
with no success.

On the pillow of regret,
the defeated soldier
lazily tries to get up,
he raises his broken toothbrush
to his teeth.

Early or late,
the stranger awakens in his exile, his homeland.
Their costumes, their car number plates, their trees,
their quarrels, their love, their land and sea
belong to them.
His memory, rats gathering on his doormat
that looks new and warm
in front of his closed door.

On a lonely pillow
the mother throws a quick glance
at the bed of her elder son,
arranged for the final time
and empty, forever.

A voice, from the neighbouring window is heard
– Hello, good morning. How are you?
– Hello, good morning. We are fine,
we are fine!

                       From the collection The Pomegranate Flowers, 2002


It’s also fine to die in our beds
on a clean pillow
and among our friends.

It’s fine to die, once,
our hands crossed on our chests
empty and pale
with no scratches, no chains, no banners,
and no petitions.

It’s fine to have an undustful death,
no holes in our shirts,
and no evidence in our ribs.

It’s fine to die
with a white pillow, not the pavement, under our cheeks,
our hands resting in those of our loved ones
surrounded by desperate doctors and nurses,
with nothing left but a graceful farewell,
paying no attention to history,
leaving this world as it is,
hoping that, someday, someone else
will change it.


I have not seen any horrors,
I have not seen the dragon in the land,
I have not seen the Cyclops on the sea,
nor a witch nor a policeman
at the entrance of my day.
Pirates have not overtaken my desires,
thieves have not broken down the door of my life,
my absence has not been long,
it took me but one lifetime.

How come you saw scars
on my face, sorrow in my eyes,
and bruises in my mood and my bones?
These are only illusions.
I have not seen any horrors
everything was extremely normal,
do not worry,
your son is still in his grave, murdered,
and he’s fine.

                              From the collection People In Their Nights, 1999


A poet sits in a coffee shop, writing:
the old lady
thinks he is writing a letter to his mother,
the young woman
thinks he is writing a letter to his girlfriend,
the child
thinks he is drawing,
the businessman
thinks he is considering a deal,
the tourist
thinks he is writing a postcard,
the employee
thinks he is calculating his debts,
the secret policeman
walks slowly, towards him.


There are some inventions
that do not exist,
old age is one of them.

Those who go “there”
take childhood with them,
hold her dimpled little fingers
in their hands,
tell her their stories.
They take with them their silly little habits,
their tricks to get around restrictions,
their sly meaningful glances –
the way they blame a friend,
the way they complain,
their impressions of the last conference
or the coming elections.
(I have seen many of them
on their deathbed)
They want us to play with them,
they fight against an enemy of a sort,
they doubt an idea or a person;
their hand, when they hear the name
of a cherished person,
joyfully snatches the telephone
with a lazy cinematic gesture,
draws instructions in the air:
“Say he is asleep.”
They issue their familiar orders,
they steal a cigarette from their visitors
and hide it under the pillow
They discuss with you their future plans,
they misunderstand you
keep arguing until you
are dismissed from the room.
They take with them
the way they pronounce their R’s,
their desire to be admired
their style of interrupting your sentences.
They take with them their slippers,
their loved ones, their razors, their make-up kits,
and all the things they don’t need
on their last journey!

Even we –
we who love them,
we – who since we were born
have thought life was made up of them
just as it is of water, wind, fire and earth,
we – who, at that moment,
want to accompany them,
just as we once did to the funfair,
we are left behind,
for they – gently, cleverly,
and for reasons only they know,
refuse to take us
with them.

                          From the collection Poems of the Pavement, 1980

First published in this translation in Banipal 15/16 (Autumn 2002-Spring 2003)

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