Helmy Salem
Helmy Salem (1951-2012)


Most probably we managed to,

for we rocked him in the paper boat,

until the water became a shattering evidence.

But we could scream all right,

before the belle who despises rituals

could feel that the endings of the feather-light

sea are brighter than its beginnings,

and that the meek usually expose their claws

whenever love exceeds

their weight-lifting abilities.


Roofs did not collapse like silence,

for peace is fast asleep on the clothes sight,

and we’re both capable of collective screaming

since the day a woman asked a man

not to hold her accountable for her death

without consulting the lawyers.


The passers-by didn’t see us when we

sustained the pardon.

We can, then, teach the young generation

true geography.




“Egyptian railroads were second

to be laid out in the whole world,”

the teacher said.

It follows, then, that she pressed her thighs

together, so she could pensively

watch the rice fields,

relieved from the pressure of fantasy.

And when the nipples betrayed her

with an unexpected awakening,

she examined the hair she’d combed

in the night-cabin,

so the captive could dishevel it

with an occasional sigh.

She summoned the criers back to the cabin,

for the soda water was allergic to lips,

and didn’t pay the VAT that much

attention, thinking that travelling

such distances toward the immigrants

was the duty of only the disassembled,

those who hadn’t paid the mother tax.


Egyptian railroads:

a giant leap

toward the flesh.




She had no idea the flute of nests

would fall upon her

from a place totally unexpected by

trustworthy people.

She then chose the organ instead,

as an indicator of the pit.

But as speed was picked up,

she noticed that the passengers

caught her looking at the conductor

on the sly,

so she wouldn’t be betrayed

by the agony of composers who’d

spoiled the cotton dolls

before they stole the spinning-wheel.


The railroad press rolled

and printed David’s ticket

into the banished woman’s handbag,

now that the iodine that

awakened the instincts

would be employed to convince

the parents they’re off to the beach,

and that a woman said:

“I’m richer than the sea,”

though she wasn’t sure

the hips would be able to prove

her claims right.


Qanawi didn’t watch her

‘cause no one pointed the scars out,

and she’ll make her own breakfast

when the morning comes, and sweep

the balcony. And she knows that

this is the look which brought about

the kissing-of-the-buttocks dispute,

while the switch workers understand

the hard-ons of the sidetracks.


You have no parcels to deliver;

all you have is this:

a female hostage seeking her mate,

tangled up in the fuel’s generosity.



Translated by Anton Shammas from Sarab Al-Triko [The T-Shirt Mirage], Cairo 1995

Published in Banipal 7, Spring 2000, page 24.

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