Mohab Nasr: Please, God, give us books to read

EGYPT. Alexandria. On the ledge of San Stephano beach. 1993.

Harry Gruyaert, Alexandria. On the ledge of San Stephano beach, 1993. Source:


I was a teacher;


I considered that natural.

For this reason I began to bow

to words I did not say;

and to communicate my respects to my children.

I tried to make them understand that it was absolutely necessary

for someone to read,

to review with his parents—

while he hurls his shoe under the bed—

how exhausting and beautiful respect is:

that they have no future without words.

You yourself, Dad,

are bowed over the newspaper

as if a cloud is passing over you;

and when I call out to you,I see your temple

stamped with melancholy,

as if it was raining specifically for your sake.

Read, Dad,

and call my mother too to read.

Let the cloud pass over all of us.

Please, God,

give us books to read:

books that smell of glue,

their pages like knives;


that cough out dust in our faces

so that we realise our life is a cemetery;


whose covers bear a dedication from the respected author

to the retired bureau director;


cleanshaven in preparation for being slapped

and others that howl

in the margins

at people who, like us, loved

and, like us, became teachers;

books in the form of Aloha shirts

at the Reading Festival;

books on whose giant trunks we can urinate

to unburden ourselves as we go on walking.


Aw, aw…

because we too are books, God,

flailing blind in our bed of love—

aw, aw—

because we are squeezed in on Your bookshelf

looking on Your miracles:

angels on the wall,

losing gamblers tearing up their bonds;

the despair of hands that strike

and hands that sleep, hurt, on the same pages.

Aw, aw…

Then someone screams: What goes on there?


The desks of the bosses arranged in the form of the Complete Works,

snakes and bears,

crosses and wall magazines,

disgust and rotting bread,

the sound of a distant latch:

Why did You unfasten it, God?


Lost with ideas on wheels,

lost at home

and on the streets,

unseen to You or ourselves,

alone before our bosses

who are also alone,

alone with the sound of a distant latch:

Why did You unfasten it, God?


Translation by Youssef Rakha