Egypt, we left you in the nightfrost
where winter stormed your shaky frame
and heaven learned to weep. I see
in your face the longing for shelter,
how you smile despite the scars, and the sun
seeps up through the night. Behind lashes,
the ruin of tears. For now, pride
and revolution hold back more.
Driven by the cold, lines of exiles
settle in emptiness. In this stingy age,
the young who covet crusts of bread
left long ago. Your blood is lost
among the cracked skulls of women and elders,
lost in whores’ perfume, lost in a glass of wine.
The Arab nation can’t blame us
for being sick of the drums of brotherhood.
Beloved invalid, what happened to awe?
Where are the colorful clothes
and the perfume that filled all creation?
We fleeced it all, even vows and modesty,
left you jilted in the ditch of our ignorance.
O holy land that still and forever summons hope for the pilgrim
O rose through which we embrace grief
O love that we adore in purity as well as sin
When we are discarded by darkness,
you are the one whose mouth is bright.
Don’t abandon your breathing voice.
Tomorrow’s sky alive again with your scent
and I will feel your body rise once more.
Come to us, beloved,
in the tattered age of strays.
Come for us, inner haven,
in a time of tyrants.
I got used to crying as soon
as I started, and now I can’t stop.
While a glass shatters, grief persists
and purity is a rarity,
but your beauty beams and hums, autumn
blazing on despite winter’s windy oncome.
We faithful children witness flowing springs despite the frost,
the scents of yearning, and the perfume of blood.
Your people, Egypt, arc and seam the generations—
don’t ask anyone else for reconstruction.
Don’t look back, searching for what
you have given. Be mouth and eye and
voice as you always have since
the earth’s first secret, and forgive
us, O temple of the soul, O black
delta soil, forgive us for God’s sake.
Translated from the Arabic by Andy Fogle and Walid Abdallah
All translated work in this issue is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.