Blessed is he who lays a flower on a tomb or a palace or a breast, is he who is born in the seventh month or the twelfth, is the throat become gorge, is he who slaughters his only horse out of kindness. Blessed is he who sinks to his knees pleading forgiveness or overcome with lust, is he who bears a cross upon his back, is he who boils a porridge of cement to hoodwink his children’s hunger, is the sniffer become snout, is the time when a wife could gather together the pieces of her helpmeet’s corpse and he would live, are the truths cowering in the crevices of falsehood, is the nation that feeds on the chatter of the worthless, is the nation that feeds on the prattling of the powerful, is the gulp become gullet. Blessed is he who fashions an ear from clay and an ear from dough until his head is severed, is a sun that still rises in the East, is a star that shines through on a cloudy day. Blessed be this tale, which would not have be told of Mustajab VII were it not for that incident, revealed to the world by a wordsmith whose father laboured as a screenwriter, wherein Mustajab VII secretly murdered Mustajab VI, sold his body to students studying dissection and with the proceeds erected a sumptious pavilion replete with dazzling lights and microphones that resounded with proverbial wisdom, to outfox foes and keep in remembrance the glorious exploits of Clan Mustajab, ancient and modern, then stood at its entrance to receive the sincerest of condolences. This is a slander against the man, which lays the very heart of truth to waste and strikes at the crux of our tale, the point at which it joins with what took place thereafter, for which reason we set over this incident an upturned water jar, and kept it hid.
To love two people is to have it
coming: body nailed to beams,
But loving one is like observing
I held out until fever
How long can grass
If I did not have hope
that my heart’s master’s
heart might bend to mine,
I would be stranded, no
closer to gate than home.
Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017
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”.
Poem 55 from a correspondence in translations of Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, between Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger. The first two translations are made independently and each subsequent rendering written after the other’s previous version has been sent and seen.
Distance, and desire ruins me. To meet
is no relief. Come or go, desire hardly cares.
Meeting him, unreckoned
things happen. In place of healing,
another ache of longing.
Because to meet him is to see
a person whose beauty grows
ever more abundant, proud.
All I can do is match my love’s ascent
To his loveliness on its measured scale.
who are you and who am I
he stayed me
and he said to me Who are you and who am I and I saw the sun and the moon and the stars and all the lights ashine and he said to me There is no light in my sea shines on without I have seen it and each thing came to me until no thing was left and kissed me between my eyes and saluted me and stood in shadow and he said to me You know me and I do not know you and I saw all of him clung to my robe and not to me and my robe leant and I did not and my robe leant and he said to me Who am I and the sun went down and the moon and the stars fell and the lights were put out and the dark covered all things but him and my eye did not see and my ear did not hear my senses ceased and each thing spoke it said Allahu Akbar and each thing came to me a spear in its hand it said to me Flee and I said Where to and it said Fall into darkness and into darkness I fell and I saw myself and he said to me See none but yourself ever Come out from darkness never And should I bring you out from it I would show you myself You would see me and should you see me you would be most distant of all
he stayed me
I wish I knew
I wish I knew they knew what heart
they held. That my heart knew
what pass they tread. You wonder
Are they safe?
The enamoured are
in love adrift
This is Robin Moger’s version of the first poem in Turjuman al Ashwaq