Emad Fouad
Emad Fouad
Thirteen Poems

Emad Fouad

Thirteen Poems

Translated by Camilo Gómez-Rivas



I was two

when I fell through a hole in the roof on my grandfather’s geese coop

I got up without a scratch

Dumb and innocent

I put my entire hand in the frying pan with the dancing rings of peppers

it swelled with blue liquid but I don’t hate sweet peppers.

I fell onto the grinding stone from the grapevine trellis in front of my grandfather’s house

and didn’t cry from the pain

but over the grapes breaking my fall

that were crushed in my hands

As a child

I played with stones and dirt and earthworms. I stole berseem flowers and pressed them in school books or threw them into the wind. I pulled out my milk teeth, avoiding my father’s heavy hand, and threw them into the sun while wishing for new teeth, stronger and prettier. I stole the seeds from my uncle’s field and put them in the spring, for crystal trees to grow from the drops of water. I dreamt in the shade from where I saw what hid in the sun. I slept tired under the beds of the neighbor’s children, hiding from my brothers and from bedtime. Life locked me in rooms, the keys hanging from my mother’s neck so she could go to the market for the week’s provisions.

Life was generous with a soul

that I contemplate now

sitting on a rock in the shade

while looking at my heart

lying before me on the dirt split in two



Childhood is

a splinter piercing my skin

right under my fingernails

and when I try to dig it out with the needle of remembering

the pain wrecks me.



What I like most about fishing

is how they thrash when they come out of the water into the daylight

a throbbing I would grip firmly on my rod so it came through to me complete


so I wouldn’t miss a thing of it

this shaking and throbbing that taught me the meaning of being a hunter

the meaning of being compelled to hunt,

that tug I lived my whole life chasing

since I was a boy

going to the river every day at noon with my uncle

to fetch lunch for a whole family,




Hide, boy! Hide that mulberry stain on your white clothes. Your mother and your aunts are looking for you. If they see you like this they’re not going to forgive you your folly. Their coarse fingers will leave red marks on your cheeks and ears and bruise overnight. They’ll forbid you from hunting the white butterfly on the berseem flowers growing in your uncle’s field. Hide your skinny body behind that mulberry trunk. Pull your knees up to your chest and muffle your breathing as you hear their feet sink heavy in the wet earth, their cracked feet treading on wheat ears detaching their bright yellow grains. Sink deep into your silence. Don’t raise your little hand to the first colorful butterfly that hovers into sight. 


right hand

with five fingers

veins popping

the blood flow almost visible


as he reaches for the butterfly full of colors that his eyes follow

as his mother’s hand catches him

He didn’t cry

the shame of the crime didn’t dispel his boyhood

He lifted his weak arms to fend off the blows

and he could still see the butterfly colors flickering before his eyes,

imagining the punishment it would receive from its mother

when it went home like that,

wings stained

with mulberry.



What misery there was for Abd al-Mun‘im Qutb Hamida, my grandfather, from whom I’d hide the hammer, pressing it against my thigh so he wouldn’t see it from where he was lying and know I had filled my pockets with nails to hammer them furtively into the grapevine.

I knew him lying on his side on the straw mat in the courtyard or leaning against the wall, giving orders to his short skinny wife or warning her off.

My grandfather, whom I saw so many times intervening between the family’s big men. He would scold the bullies, slap the women, and push back tyranny.

His cough waited, ready, and ever-present

It lent sleeping near him a sweet and safe quality

He died before I could show him the scars of the nails in the grapevine he’d planted thirty years before.

But I am sure he saw them and said nothing, spitting his curse with his cough

“God damn you, Ibn Fouad,

you’re ruining the tree.”


why does his smell surround me and the sound of him clearing his throat

when I buy grapes

growing in this cold?



Three people cross the same street every day.

A man whose manhood quivers with the flicker of every passing skirt.

He asks himself:

What’s the use of choosing

as long as every bee makes its honey?

A lover closes his eyes to his beloved’s shortcomings.

He asks himself:

What use is it to question

so long as my heart is filled with love?

A wood gatherer

leaves every morning with an axe over his shoulder.

He asks himself:

What use is a tree without fruits or flowers

when it doesn’t shade the passersby in the heat of the day?


We must honor

this inauspicious, black

and ill-fortuned,

cawing after anyone smiling

We must realize its true value and superiority

for it taught us

how to get rid of bodies we come upon unexpectedly

suffocating on the last rattle, between our fingers

We must practise how to modify ourselves, how to love it,

cherish it and give it its due,

welcome it even in the morning

smiling behind us as we leave our homes on our business,

sending us off on our daily departure

to schools and nurseries

holding our children’s hands

We must honor and


and respect it,

deal with it amicably,

this raven, cawing triumphant,

digging in the distance

a grave for its brother



Wind the wrap ten times around her

once isn’t enough

or two

or three

or four

five or seven aren’t enough

ten is

for her to be properly concealed from the midday sun

from the eyes of those who pass by the bier


at their feet, treading softly on the earth of the cemetery

Wind this soul up tight

Wrap her from her head to her toe in Egyptian linen,

slap the back of her hand if she tries to get away

put the index finger of your right hand across your lips to quiet her talking

tell her to keep her voice down

in the presence of this shrouded body whose rattle fills the room

tell her to behave properly

to bow her head before these two legs she dragged on made-up errands

so as not to raise her eyes to its eyes

Teach her to honor those eyes withered by restlessness and insomnia and crying and writing

and to kiss this hand that wrote what was dictated without question

Tell her she’s ruined it enough already

that it’s turned rotten like spoiled fruit

Show her its stomach raised on hunger

the heart she tamed like a lion

and turned to stone

unbending before a mother’s breast, and unyielding to a glance from a father’s eye

pull her ears like a miserable child when you wash her long hair

make her see the blue bite marks her playing left on its cold heart

Drag her from her hair and stand her up, head tilted

and count the blue bruises on her ears

Did you see?

Here’s the bruise of the first slap

Here the bruise from the pinch of solitude

Here the bruise from the bite of memory

Here the bruise of failure where the wings are growing under her arms

Here the bruise of leaving the warm darkness and opening eyes wide in the October sun

Here the bruise a woman left her

who pulled her shawl from his hands and disappeared

Here the bruise left by Adam’s ten fingers

Tell her

once is not enough

nor two

nor three

nor four

five or seven aren’t enough

Ten is enough

to be properly concealed

from the midday sun.



The Comedy:

When a man sleeps and dreams about a dead woman who comes crying to him, quarrelling and threatening him with suicide.

The Black Comedy:

When the man fears the idea of sleep and the woman returns to threaten him again with suicide.

The Tragedy:

When she goes through with her threats and commits suicide.

The Absurd:

When he mourns her.



Our virgin mother

black of face

We hurt her to bury our dead

she bore and formed from clay

Six feet under earth

is enough

to return things entrusted to her family

and pile earth

on earth.



I will begin to write from the end of the line

without pauses or full stops

or meaningless spaces

I won’t embellish the letters

or vowelize them

or care for the eye that reads them

Let’s be honest

You have two children from two other men and I have two children from another woman,

You are the middle sibling, between brothers, and I am the first born of peasants come from mud of ignorance to mud unknown

You are a few years older than me, and I have been a father a few years longer, as I see in your eyes when you curl up like a lion who’s escaped the trap and into my arms.

Your mother and mine are old ladies who complain about the pranks of time and the pains of rheumatism

and each of us has his and her own accent

and eloquence picked up from the street.

Let’s be honest

On this wide coarse bed in which we scratch each other like cats fleeing the cold dark street, we drink each other’s saliva, cured with tobacco and wine, in hot slow kisses under the light of candles

Did you not see me when your mother gave birth to you and I was bent over your belly as I cut with the rusty knife

your coiled cord before you cried your first cry in this world?

Did you not see me when I was wiping the birth blood from your warm head, cleaning off the drying bits from your blue legs?

You say: “I didn’t see you

but I felt your skinny finger with the black nail” as she rubs my groin and two red lips open beneath her

and a small red-blood tongue grows between them, which you called “your hidden rose”,

I called “the tip of shyness”.

You didn’t see me

but you felt my blackened finger

and I didn’t see you

but I could smell you under the sheets and feel the pulse in your veins, under your heart before it beats and before the scalpel first plants pain in it and before the first black stain of life seeps in.

You were between my father’s lips as he went to throw himself on my mother

I was between your mother’s breasts before your father went to throw himself on her.

And today roses grow in our palms and wilt before they blossom, and we walk, bowed under the weight of the wooden plough, and there are those who beat and beat, whereas we don’t feel or moan. We just move to open lines in the earth’s heart and leave the job of killing the earthworms to the sun.

Let’s be honest

For three years we licked our salt water sweat and spilled blood

without growing apart or separating,

we cried and shouted.

I swore and angered you

you cursed me

I spit at you and you at me

your two children grew up with mine in my house. I bought them presents and toys and new clothes

You bathed mine and played with them on the dewy grass and taught them your accent and whispered

cusses in their ears so they’d grow up knowing the world.

Be honest with me, then,

Tell me why I shout at you this way right now

while I’m above you slapping your rear with my hand like a rider with black reins wrapped around my hands,

sweat running under my arm pits

every time I thought of my feverish tongue touching your pink nipple,

as if you had never nursed your children

as if they hadn’t emerged from your womb through cesareans

and as if I hadn’t borne and bathed and scolded and pinched and cleaned

and cried like a child when they were ill

The birthmark on your left shoulder

darker than the one on the right

will guide me to the first step of your soul’s cellar

and I will hang the keys to my blackened life around your round sunken navel

drinker of the salt of sweat

around my neck since my mother had me

I will begin to write from the end of the line

without pauses

or periods

or meaningless spaces

let’s be honest


The above poems were selected and translated from the collection ‘Ashar Turuq li-l-Tankil bi-Juththa (Ten Ways to Torture a Corpse),

Dar al-Adab, Beirut, 2010




At first sight

you in black

I in turquoise

between us a thread of light

and your dark body



Were I to say

were I to be able

I wouldn’t flee

I wouldn’t unstring your amber necklace

over the rug in the hall.



Your lip

the first disaster

and your eyes

your foot

as it touches the ground


Be careful not to bruise my cheek

under your heels.



Close your eyes

so mine don’t hurt you

as they sketch rivulets of warm blood in your veins

Lean back on the bed we were just washing with the beads of our sweat,

the Chinese pin in your hair invites my teeth to remove it

and your country earrings I will remove with love-shy fingers.

The kohl of your eyelids I’ll remove with my tongue

and leave fingernail crescents on your breasts,

tender as they disappear in the dark

and turn into waxing moons

getting ready for sleep

I will stay awake watching over the den of dreams

as they fall quietly over your soft forehead

I throw the seeds to their open beaks

and with my walking stick drive away the strange birds

as I return the picked grapes

that you press in my mouth.


The above poems were selected and translated from the collection Harir (Silk), Dar al-Nahdha al-‘Arabiyya, 2007



I was little

chasing the doves of our village, throwing stones,

whispering secrets to the bees on my family’s grapevine,

hunting butterflies with two fingers from the roses

and playing the nay I made of reed for the neighbor’s dog

I was beautiful,

opening my arms to embrace the light,


breathing in the blazing sun

to cool the air,

running ravenous to bury my head in the chest of my mother’s friends

And when they’d call me

I’d hide – like a mouse – between flowers.

I thought myself a prophet,

or someone other than myself.

And when I grew up

my suspicions

were confirmed.


The above poem was selected and translated from the collection Bi-Kadma Zarqa’ min ‘Addati al-Nadam (With a Blue Bruise from the Bite of Regret), Dar Sharqiyyat li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawzi‘, Cairo, 2005.


Published in Banipal 54 - ECHOES 

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