Night bites my shoulder. I turn to you, through a nylon window
To a state of limbo, there on a map
Under rivers of paper
We never drown, gazing on bridges
Night hugged my waist, like my mother, wailing
Where are our parents?
Mohamed ElBaradei at the World Economic Forum in Davis, Switzerland on 25 January 2007. Image from Wikipedia.
First posted on 19 June 2012
Dear Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei:
Happy 70th and thank you! Truly, thank you: for refusing to be part of this travesty of presidential elections, for rejecting any form of putsch or “revolutionary justice”, for insisting on a sound constitution and political pluralism, for understanding democracy at a time when those fighting military dictatorship have completely missed the point. I’m sure you feel sufficiently vindicated and at peace to enjoy your birthday; and you must realize by now how many Egyptians respect you…
REFUGEE: A man leaves, embarks on a journey, endures inhumane difficulties in search of a humane haven. There is a war going on where he comes from; it’s not safe even to walk to the vegetable souk. Abducted by one armed group, an ambulance driver he knows is forced to make a fake confession on video for the benefit of satellite news channels, then sold to another armed group—and so on.
Some think of them as nightmares. Of course even “nightmare” originally referred to a wicked mare rearing over the sleeper in the night, waking them in a panic by making it hard to breathe. Like every word ever invented it is at bottom an image, an incident, a scene that speaks of something both bigger and smaller, less abstract than itself. There are many such creatures whose beauty, as Rilke famously said, is nothing but the beginning of terror: nightmares giving life something that comes close to but never quite becomes meaning. Unlike other strings of sounds that give meaning in more straightforward or practical ways, they are truer than reality.
Others consider them little mechanical constructions. Like buildings, they are essentially functional schemes. They contain spaces and have plans. You can walk through them, sit or lie down; sometimes, once inside, you can dance. They are made up of bricks and blocks; the difference is that they themselves can walk and talk. They take on shapes and colours, even sizes. They are designed according to futuristic schemes that make them at once solid and mobile. You may sleep in one of them only to wake up in another. They transmigrate through space; time is their mortar. They are the planets and stars of miniature solar systems of minds sensitive and diseased.
Others still conceive of them as incantations: spells, hexes, blessings. Unlike other little texts they have the ability to harness energy and reuse it. They work like magic, which is defined as “an intervention that alters reality”. That intervention does not have to be physical or perceptible; it does not have to be world-bound as such: the point of the hunter’s chant, the healer’s prayer, is that it is not mundane. You write them, you read them or you recite them; and like words dictated to prophets by archangels, they change the world. What it is important to remember is that they change your private, inner world. They are not revolutions.
Yet in as far as anything at all is important, they are even more important than revolutions; in the long run, at least, if they have not been abused, if they have not calcified into codes that stifle and kill, they give the world a slightly more meaningful look and feel. Which is why, in case you have not guessed by now, I am thinking of poems, not Poetry.