Ali Lateef: Two Libyan Folktales

Tripoli coffee house by Domenico Tumiati, 1911. Source: theculturetrip.com

The brightest sun

Storyteller: Salima Abd Alsadeg Abu Khasheem

May God curse the devil, and keep us safe from his schemes.

There is a man who is married to two young women. One is white, the other black. The white woman ridicules the other for her color and constantly reminds her, You are only a servant.

Each one of them had a daughter. When the black woman sends food to the white woman, she doesn’t let her daughter eat it, or even taste it; when she gets it, she tosses it away for the dogs and says, Beware of her food, it makes you sick.

When the white daughter visits the black woman, she gives her candy and lets her play with her own daughter. But when the black daughter visits the white woman, she strikes her and throws her out. The white woman tells people bad things about the black woman, and as the saying goes, Two wives wreck a man’s home.

Continue Reading

Nadine Yasser: Insomnia

Tereza Zelenkova, from ” Snake That Disappeared Through a Hole in the Wall”, 2018. Source: 1000wordsmag.com

The shadows in that room always looked a bit hysterical. It may have had something to do with how tall the walls were. It only had one tiny, too high to reach, which made it look like it was there just to freak you out. Perhaps my brother was right; he said it looked like a prison cell. He wanted me to move into the room with better lighting, but it had two big windows. Windows made me uncomfortable; I was barely okay with one. I could never shake off the feeling of being watched. It’s a bit of an egotistical belief, to think that someone or something would leave everything behind to watch your every move. But, egotistical or not, the feeling never left me.

I’ve been lying in bed for three days straight, only leaving my room when absolutely necessary. A crippling numbness took over my body from time to time, and this was one of those times. What followed this inexplicable numbness was always the same repetitive scenario. Having been in bed for a couple of days, I’d get up after midnight with an urge to escape. I’d feel myself being pushed out of my bed and out the door. Every time, my brother would be waiting for me next to the front door, holding it open, and closing it behind me. I’d start walking; everything would go blank from then on.

Continue Reading

Robin Moger Translates 1997 Youssef Rakha

Youssef Rakha, Eagle Shadow, 2021

My Heart on the Table

I was not born on the mountaintops. but from the first the sea was my destination. wrestling the ghosts which pursue me was my singular work. exemplary. no, sadly. no, I was not born upon the mountaintops. and my childhood was without gardens. When I let my ghosts drift away to distant lands. I found night at my bedroom window. and I did not stop. until I grew tired of watching the stars. the day I lost my innocence in a whirlpool of light. and hated the sight of my city by day. I had to do something with myself. took time as my enemy before I knew what it was. and became used to sitting on the riverbank. watching the water as it ran on its way. caring nothing for associations of place. I learned to walk in streets that remained nameless. at least to me.

Continue Reading

Nadine Yasser: The Ballroom                                                                                       

Benjamin Shine, “Transcendence”, 2016. Source: boccaraart.com

I was wearing an orange dress, I had no clue why or how. I didn’t own a single item of clothing that was orange—nor did I ever plan to. I was in a ballroom. A stadium? No, a ballroom, a hotel ballroom. The same one I’d been to years ago when I had to go to some relative’s wedding. That was a strange day; I’d seen so many family members that I hadn’t seen in ages at that wedding. The music was so loud. I could feel judgmental eyes on me for staying at the table where the aunties sat instead of getting up and dancing with people my age. But the food was great that night, and it made up for the headache, the awkwardness, and the fact that I felt like a hostage to traditions the whole night. Meanwhile, this time there was no wedding. Instead, there were hundreds of people I knew and had met throughout my life. Most of the faces were blurry. I couldn’t tell if I was a blur to them too or not.

Continue Reading

Youssef Rakha Translates Sargon Boulus, Again

Butterfly Dream

The butterfly that flies as if
tied by an invisible thread to paradise
almost brushed my chin while I sat in the garden
drinking my first coffee
shaking last night’s nightmares out of my head
lolling in the sun
I saw it drift over the wooden fence
like a dream or a prayer, what was
only yesterday a caterpillar
locked up in its tight cocoon.

Sara Al-Sayed: Kahk Essence



Salé Sucré Pâtisserie image, source: cairo360.com

Ramadan had started and I decided to find the nearest Egyptian/Arab deli. My expectations were humble. I just wanted to get my hands on a few cans of fava beans (ful) and dried dates. Over the years ful has become a fixture of my suhoor around midnight or as late/early as dawn to guarantee my energy levels wouldn’t plummet over the course of the fasting day. The dates are to break my fast on as is traditional.

Continue Reading

Sara Elkamel: Two Poems

Alfred Wallis, St. Ives, 1928. Source: tate.org.uk

[Architecture]

To build something together one last time
there are so many questions,
like who would live there,
and if no one, why build it?

In our panic we make a house
that looks like a boat,
which reminds me of dreaming
both of us were angels, sleeping at sea.

When we lay the boat down
in the cemetery of love,
we squat over one of its three windows,
and wave to ourselves through the glass.

 

 

Continue Reading

Alexander Booth: Scheggia

From “The Little Light that Escaped”

Bryan Sansivero, from “Abandoned Lives”. Source: rosajhberlandartconsultant.com

But I remember.

The scent of sun and ash, a taste of resin, blame. Summers across slanting floors and smiles like sickles for thoughts of flight. Abandoned streets and a feeling of sinking. Makeshift holes not far from the sea; closer in, the cicadas’ hum the whirl straight up to twilight’s hem, brittle wings which brought no breeze while all the rest were busy drinking, swallowing the searing-eyed, searing-tongued prophets and seers, and jaundicing into the yellow silence of the years. The tonal monotony of the land.

Days passing, just out of the reach of the sun. Days passing, in a basement room, watching the arc of the sun through a small square of sky. Tides of no turning. Blocks of light mosaiced while the slow days tasted of mineral, copper, rust.

Continue Reading

Robin Moger Translates “The Princess Waits: A Verse Play by Salah Abdessabour”

Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar, The Lady Rider, early 1950s. Source: christies.com

We do not see the hut when the lights first come up, and then we see it. Its inhabitants are not interested in us, perhaps because their problems do not concern us. These women spend their days waiting for a man, and they know that one day he will come. Lights shine upstage from the front of the stage, illuminating a door in the back wall. Neither fully open nor quite shut, it swings gently on its hinges, creaking intermittently, as though the fitful wind outside the hut is knocking to make its presence known within. Then the light sweeps downstage and to the right: we see a flight of stairs rising to the princess’s room, mirrored by a flight on the left leading down to their larder. Centre stage is an old-fashioned, rectangular dining table—or rather, it is simply old: it has no identifiable fashion. Around this table there are four chairs, the back of one slightly higher than the rest. The chairs are not neatly arranged but are scattered about as though hastily vacated. Between them wend the backs of two women dressed in black, cleaning the shabby furnishings and complaining.

Continue Reading

Nurat Maqbool: Gone

nilimasheikh-talk-01

Nilima Sheikh, Hunarmand, 2014. From “Each night put Kashmir in your dreams”. Source: cdn.aaa.org.hk

“Rizwan, it’s you, it’s you. Is that you, Rizwan?”

“Yes, it is me. But who are you? I know your voice but I can’t put a face to it.”

“Ah, never mind. Your father… your father has been looking for you. Where were you? What took you so long?”


Continue Reading

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 End of Story

“In court I once met a person I had never seen before,” the prince said, “but who reminded me of all the people I have ever seen. He said he had something magnificent in store for his head. But I must not think he was going to cut it off himself. He put a knife into my hand and said: Cut my head off, my dear fellow. I have long waited for you to turn up to cut off my head. For I have something magnificent in store for my head. Don’t be afraid, this eccentric said, I have calculated everything in advance. It cannot go wrong. Here, cut! He gave me three minutes. Here, he said, this is the spot where I want my head cut off. I’ll continue to stand, because it seems to me thoroughly undignified to have your head cut off while lying down, let alone sitting. I won’t embarrass you! the stranger said. Incidentally, the knife is manufactured by the Christofle Company, he said. And I actually saw the name Christofle engraved on the knife. I seized the head and cut it off. I was quite astonished at how easy it was. The head then said: You see, you had no difficulty cutting off my head. But then I see that I haven’t cut off his head, and the stranger said: You didn’t seriously imagine you could cut off my head, did you? Or did you? Let us go on, the stranger said. He was my cousin. Actually,” the prince said, “I did not dream the story to its end. That was a pity.”

— from Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard, translated by Richard and Clara Winston

1967 (1970)

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 Taste of Hell

They ate at a place called El Rey del Taco. At the entrance there was a neon sign: a kid wearing a big crown mounted on a burro that regularly kicked up its hind legs and tried to throw him. The boy never fell, although in one hand he was holding a taco and in the other a kind of scepter that could also serve as a riding crop. The inside was decorated like a McDonald’s, but in an unsettling way. The chairs were straw, not plastic. The tables were wooden. The floor was covered in big green tiles, some of them printed with desert landscapes and episodes from the life of El Rey del Taco. From the ceiling hung pinatas featuring more adventures of the boy king, always accompanied by the burro. Some of the scenes depicted were charmingly ordinary: the boy, the burro, and a one-eyed old woman, or the boy, the burro, and a well, or the boy, the burro, and a pot of beans. Other scenes were set firmly in the realm of the fantastic: in some the boy and the burro fell down a ravine, in others, the boy and the burro were tied to a funeral pyre, and there was even one in which the boy threatened to shoot his burro, holding a gun to its head. It was as if El Rey del Taco weren’t the name of a restaurant but a character in a comic book Fate happened never to have heard of. Still, the feeling of being in a McDonald’s persisted. Maybe the waitresses and waiters, very young and dressed in military uniforms (Chucho Flores told him they were dressed up as federales), helped create the impression. This was certainly no victorious army. The young waiters radiated exhaustion, although they smiled at the customers. Some of them seemed lost in the desert that was El Rey del Taco. Others, fifteen-year-olds or fourteen-year-olds, tried in vain to joke with some of the diners, men on their own or in pairs who looked like government workers or cops, men who eyed them grimly, in no mood for jokes. Some of the girls had tears in their eyes, and they seemed unreal, faces glimpsed in a dream.

“This place is like hell,” he said to Rosa Amalfitano.

“You’re right,” she said, looking at him sympathetically, “but the food isn’t bad.”

“I’ve lost my appetite,” said Fate.

“As soon as they put a plate of tacos in front of you it’ll come back,” said Rosa Amalfitano.

“I hope you’re right,” said Fate.

— from 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer

2004 (2008)

They Killed for Love: Michael Lesslie in Conversation with Maan Abu Taleb

José Luis Cuevas, Macbeth, 1987. Source: 1stdibs.com

One of my favourite insults to the person of Macbeth comes towards the end of the play, when the aggrieved Macduff calls out to him: “Turn, hellhound, turn!” It is a testament to Shakespeare’s prowess that even after we’ve witnessed all the atrocities committed by Macbeth, the line jars. “He’s not a hellhound!” one feels like shouting back. The insult agitates us. By then we had already tried to alienate ourselves from Macbeth and his deeds, but we’re too intimate with the depths of his anguish to do so, an anguish not mysterious and beyond our grasp, like Hamlet’s. Macbeth is well within our understanding, his dilemma is laid bare for us to ponder and weigh.

The suggestion that in reading Macbeth there are things to be learnt about Bashar al Assad, Saddam Hussein, or al Qathafi, is often laughed to scorn whenever I dare mention it in polite company. It is generally assumed that the characters of these men do not rise to the complexity and elevation of a Shakespearean villain, as if villainy excludes finesse. I am told they are mere butchers, with no depth of feeling or capacity for insight. Yet it is exactly that, insight, that I feel the likes of Saddam have, and which allows them to reign in terror for such elongated periods. One can hate Saddam and everything he stood for, but can we in good faith dismiss him as a brute, or deny his sophisticated methods of intimidation? A viewing of the Al Khold Hall footage – where Saddam solidified his grip on power by effectively staging a play, one where murder was unseen, like Macbeth, but real – demonstrates Saddam’s credentials as a connoisseur of terror. His methods of breaking the wills of men require nothing less than a terrible talent.

Continue Reading

55: Yasmine, Robin, Mohieddin

Poem 55 from a correspondence in translations of Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, between Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger. The first two translations are made independently and each subsequent rendering written after the other’s previous version has been sent and seen.

Khusraw discovers Shirin bathing in a pool from a 16th-century Khamsa by Nizami. Source: Wikipedia


screenshot-2


Y(i)

 

Distance, and desire ruins me. To meet

is no relief. Come or go, desire hardly cares.

 

Meeting him, unreckoned

things happen. In place of healing,

another ache of longing.

 

Because to meet him is to see

a person whose beauty grows

ever more abundant, proud.

 

All I can do is match my love’s ascent

To his loveliness on its measured scale.

 

Continue Reading

Ahmed Almunirawi’s Tunisian Portraits

It can happen that I am observed without knowing it, and again I cannot speak of this experience, since I have determined to be guided by the consciousness of my feelings. But very often (too often, to my taste) I have been photographed and knew it. Now, once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of ‘posing,’ I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image. This transformation is an active one: I feel that the Photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice…

Continue Reading

Joseph Schreiber: Calcutta in Grey

A city of stark contrasts, Calcutta breathes deeply in black and white.

The altered reality of the black and white image engages the outlines of the urban landscape.

.

Continue Reading

Robin Moger Translates Salah Abdessabour

The Daybook of Bishr the Barefoot

Abu Nasr, Bishr bin al-Harith, sought out debate and discussion and heard all that was said and so inclined to mysticism. And one day he was walking through the market when, taking fright at the people there, he removed his sandals and slipped them beneath his arms and set off running through the sunbaked stones and sand, and none could keep pace with him. This was in the year 227 AH.

Leopold Müller, A barefoot man in robes running while holding a stick, 1878. Source: Wikipedia

Continue Reading

Belal Hosni: Forest Road, Western Alexandria/The God Abandons Anthony

 

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear

an invisible procession going by

with exquisite music, voices,

don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,

work gone wrong, your plans

all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.

As one long prepared, and graced with courage,

say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.

Continue Reading

Julian Gallo: Pieces

Benoit Paillé, from "Rainbow Gatherings". Source: lensculture.com

Benoit Paillé, from “Rainbow Gatherings”. Source: lensculture.com

New York City — The Recent Past

There’s that “something” in the look she is giving you, something in her gaze which tells you that she thinks you’re interesting. You pretend not to notice it, of course, try to maintain your “cool detachment” but you aren’t sure why you’re doing it. You don’t really like to talk about yourself too much but she asked about your writing and writing is, at least to you, essentially the “core” of who you are. How could you not talk about it?

“What do you write? Would I know anything?”

Continue Reading

No more posts.