… behemoth beards bereft of all mustachios

And then the baby begins to sway. The ghost whirr of the AC dying hard in our ears, we’ve grown paralytically hot in the living room, some whiff of something gunpowder-like coming through the window, and all of life suddenly, wrongfully without power. Somewhere not far mephitic men with weapons must be raising those black flags marked with the statement of the faith in white rudimentary abjad, behemoth beards bereft of all mustachios, shrieking their support for the President of the Second Republic. Before long, enraged guevaras will be heading straight for the fuckers. They will be wielding slogans as they die of what, through rev-o-lution, they have brought upon themselves. The streets are quiet except for gun shots sounding a slow beat when the baby slithers off her mother’s lap and crawls to the center of the room, quarreling with balance and gravity until, plump legs ending in all but edible feet in two arches across a few square inches of the carpet, she is sitting. Her miniature fists grab invisible parallel bars as she rocks to and fro, up and down, shaking her head along the opposite axis and humming a crude rhythm in the candlelight. When she notices us notice her, she gathers speed. While she sways she is neither crying nor laughing her high, raucous laugh, the one that comes with a flurry and directionless shaking of the limbs. Now, as she rocks with martial regularity, her face is dead serious. This is evidently a matter of great importance; it must be done in a professional spirit. And then the father too rises, finally, wading in the humidity to the nearest flat surface, a closed door, where he manages to stand. And, taking my cue from a gun shot, my wife clapping along with me, the baby like a pendulum while Egypt burns, I begin to drum.

From Waiting for Civil War: an iPhoneography work in progress

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Indoors: Hipstamatic Tintotypes with a Poem

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*

Alexandria

For Mohab Nasr

All these years my friend

As though we’re here by mistake

Waiting until the roads clear

To drive unlicensed trucks

And face the border guards

With forced laughter and cash.

We dream of places that were they found

We’d be no good for, my friend,

Forced to mix with the statues

To swap their talk with them

To be jammed in among them

With frozen limbs, looking and not seeing,

Our heads bowed down at home

We excuse ourselves from going to the quarries

That we might try reproducing in secret,

Mourning our endangered line.

All these years plucking up the courage

To declare we are not statues

And then collapse in pieces from their plinths,

Dead with flattened heads,

With eyes bulging out like mother-of-pearl,

With holes in our bones.

How is it, my friend, after all these years

All we can utter is croaking?

Trans. Qisasukhra

One arm left

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MY ARM HURTS

When one of them dies you realize

Parents are like limbs:

They don’t stop hurting amputated.

Moaning theatrically to tell the world

How long suffering she has been,

The one who hasn’t died draws up

At the threshold to her chamber,

One hand on the peeling door frame

Apparently to keep standing.

I can only see the back of her

As I go on pacing the hall.

*

Cramps, burns, festering lacerations…

How could I have saved my arm from

The battering of the years?

It is not that I like the old crutch;

I just feel sorry for all that it has suffered

Which makes it a terrible burden,

Unwanted and perpetually distressed.

That must be why I tend to it,

Crank my neck till it hurts

To excavate the knots of pain

In its furrows of tired sinew.

*

Suddenly my mother crosses over,

No longer moaning. And before I stop,

I see her hand hovering to the ceiling.

Lighter than all the burdens in the world,

She reminds me: I, who wished him dead,

Will never be rid of my father.

*

© Youssef Rakha

Rewritten from Arabic by the author