The Ruins by Josh Calvo

“The Ruins” is Josh Calvo’s regular dirge for sundry Aleppos of memory—all real, all lost, all his. “The Ruins” is a term borrowed from pre-Islamic poetry, in which “weeping over the ruins” is a favorite gharad; the word gharad, which literally means “purpose” and roughly corresponds to genre, is used to indicate not so much a poem’s theme as the driving force behind its utterance. “The Ruins” is the title of both the series and the first piece in the series. Josh Calvo, who is first and foremost a true writer though he also translates from  Hebrew and Arabic, among other languages dead and alive, can be reached at this email.

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Entrance to Aleppo Castle, G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, 1898. Source: loc.gov

Then the rains washed over the ruins, like a book whose text is written and rewritten….

— Labid (d. 661)[1]

For reasons he has kept to himself, Hakham Abraham Yeshaya Dayan–—born around the turn of the nineteenth century in Aleppo, and risen to become a rabbinic leader in its Jewish community, authoring several religious and scholarly books which have now become obscure, the world to which they are addressed having disappeared and the city in which they were to be read and applied having become in the hundred years since he lived unfathomably and irreversibly unrecognizable—decided suddenly, with the dawning of what would be the decade before his death, that the time had come for him to walk along the walls of his ancient city in search of signs from its long history. For want of some sense of his inner motivations, of what he beheld in his mind whenever he tried to see Aleppo in times he cannot have known, of what image of the city as he knew it over his own lifetime had been building itself in his memory, I can discover little more than he himself has admitted—or that has, by chance or by force, admitted itself—into his words. The nineteenth-century Hakham would not have needed to describe the impression left in mind by what he could still see outside: like the feeling of what remained of what once was: or the music of the undead voices of those who lived before: the cold stone of a synagogue surviving in the walls of a mosques: or the distant echoing of King David’s cavalry and Mongol horses heard faintly, aloft the wind from faraway mountains. And now that the Aleppo he knew has smoldered and will never again be seen, what remains are only these silent words by which it will never be described.

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Alienation: A New Chapbook by Mahmoud Almunirawi

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Click the image to access the PDF

Sometimes I think about praying

Maybe in congregation with other Muslims

Afterwards, I would call my mum and tell her:

People liked my voice when I recited the Qur’an

This happens again and again

But I haven’t done it a single time since I left home

I did not even call and ask her how she is…

Mahmoud Almunirawi defines this PDF as an album of overexposed images of architecture and poems “written during my 5 years in Sweden. Together,” he writes, “they form an abstract biography of life events.” тнє ѕυℓтαη’ѕ ѕєαℓ, which posted some of these poems in the original Arabic, was not involved in editing the English text, which was translated from Arabic by Slimen Zougari.

Noor Naga: No One Walks Woman in Alexandria

Anti-harassment stencil graffiti by Keizer. The legend reads “Check yourself before we check you”. Source: tavaana.org

The men of this city make animal

sounds as if to say

I got a slaughter with your neck

      on it now how

you gonna walk with your psst-psst hidden

  all your psst-psst hiding

      from me

           and my tick-tick pointing

pants how now you gonna walk two-legged

with my panting your

          stiff sniffable neck and my smick-smack with my

bone back watching—

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Matthew Chovanec: On Its Own Fucked-up Terrain

Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017

Rohan Daniel Eason (copyright One Peace Books), from a children’s illustrated Kafka. Source: wired.com

Arabic novels are so frequently described as Kafkaesque or Orwellian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two authors were themselves Arab. It is a small wonder that noone has yet tried to uncover their secret Arab origins by etymologizing their names (قفقاء and الروال) in the way that the Turks have for Shakespeare. It is true that both of their names have become literary shorthand for a type of writing dealing with dystopia, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. It is also true that Arab societies have continued unabated to live through dystopias, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. But the label flattens out what is particular and new about so much excellent Arabic writing, and suggests that everything you need to know about the daily experience of living in a dysfunctional and cruel system can be captured by the term  “nightmarish”.

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