Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

A follow-up.

I always think of this poem when I think of leaving a place.


Before he makes each one
of us, God speaks.

Then, without speaking,
he takes each one
out of the darkness.

And these are the cloudy
words God speaks
before each of us begins:

“You have been sent out
by your senses. Go
to the farthest edge
of desire, and give me
clothing: burn like a great
fire so that the stretched-out
shadows of the things
of the world cover
me completely.
Let everything happen
to you: beauty and terror.
No feeling is the farthest out.

Don’t let
yourself be separated
from me.

Nearby is the country
called Life;
you will know it by
its seriousness.

Give me your hand.”


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Attarine is where you go when you want old things.

The district is kind of amorphously south of Shari3a Fouad, merging into Manshaya somewhere around the west end of the square. If you duck past the police station and sight a gothic edifice, you’re in the right place. A little deeper in, there are a series of labyrinthine alleys crowded with carpenters, furniture makers, and ironmongers that seem to always have work (though I can’t imagine that many people are buying the amount of furniture that they seem to make). There is a perpetual banging, as the woodworkers craft the mashrabayyat screens here, and ironmongers work to restore the blackness of iron newly forged from iron left to rust.

Every now and then there is a dust-covered shop that opens up; some of them have rusty tin signs that once where common advertisements for the mail, Stella Beer, and any number of whiskeys, tobaccos, and facial creams.

I was looking for cufflinks.

Depending on who you ask, the word for cufflinks is zuraar. Unfortunately, this is also the same word for “buttons,” so I ended up getting shown an interesting number of buttons that ended up from being from old livery uniforms during the Ottoman period. I bought two, and am determined to make them into my own awesome cufflinks.

I found two leather-boxed sets of the gaudiest cufflinks I’ve ever seen, thanked the shopowner, and left.

I found myself later in the antiquaire (his word) of George, who speaks a tolerable English (that I never hear), and only annoys me when he tries out his French. He’s been on Rue Fuad for ages, and knows pretty much every story I start telling about the colonial city. He’s a small man and wears an ancient paisely tie most times that I see him, his jacket a little too big for him and looking like the tired old houndstooth numbers you find in Salvation Army stores back in the states. His shop is a half-and-half mixture of books soaked through with tarred L&M smoke and badly restored or replicated antiques.

I forget how we got onto the subject, but we were talking about literature. We went from Arabic to French to English, to literature taught in Egypt, and how nothing post-Dickens is ever taught (seriously, students of English literature have never even heard of T.S. Eliot or James Joyce. Eliot! Joyce!). After an argument over T.S.’s nationality (American, definitely, despite the phony accent), he changed the subject:

“Do you like Komanjis?”


“Komanjis. He’s American. From the twenties, thirties. He’s famous.”

Don’t know him.

“How do you not know him? You studied literature, right?

He pulled a dusty paperback off the shelf. In Arabic script, the author’s name on the cover read: “Ih ih Kuminjz.”

e e cummings! He was talking about e e cummings!

I flipped out.

This is the first time I realized that certain things actually aren’t translatable….but people translate them anyway. There are no capital letters in Arabic; the language doesn’t even work like English (not a bad thing, just different). How on earth are you supposed to duplicate cummings’ emphasis on structure on the page, formatting, and the use of capitals and lowercase?

It was baffling.

Something to go back to later.

Until then, one of my favorites, just for you to chew on:

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

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Quatrain 30

Why, my love, is there always travel between us?
And we’ve left ourselves unguarded against the sin of it;
Why, my love, are there all these seas between us?
Seas infected — no, carved — deep with things not us.

How strange, I find.

– Salah Jahin

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Quatrain 7

The Son of Adam came from Nothing– a miracle!
And the Son of Adam returned to Northing– a miracle the same!
Living dust transformed, only to become dust again;
Drawn from Death to return– and have passage through Life.


– Salah Jahin

At this point I realize that the first dozen or so poems are rather depressing. I seem to be harping on the subject of death. Rest easy, gentle reader: I’m going to start skipping around a little more and perhaps find Mr. Jahin’s upside. MJN

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Quatrain 5

Not a ray of sunlight, and I’m immersed in darkness:
And I stop in my tracks, afraid to move, afraid to leave.
And yet when the light comes and I see the paths,
I get angry– I get scared– when I try to disentangle myself.

How strange.

Salah Jahin

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Quatrain 4

Years and the past have moved me, group to group;
In the first that took me, I was a son–then a husband,
And third, a father. And now, the fourth is…What is it?
What is this thing that tosses me from wave to wave?

I am amazed.

– Salah Jahin

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Quatrain 2

You astound me, Time– you amaze me:
You ragged ball of inventions– you, teary-eyed and bloody.
How can I choose a road for my soul,
And enter into Life– when you force me?

How strange it is!

– Salah Jahin

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