Eleven Arabic-Language Poets: Muhammad al-Maghout, Saniyya Saleh, Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud, Tariq al-Karmi, Khawla Dunia, Widad Nabi, Mohamed Ali Yousfi, Fowziyya Abu-Khalid, Adel Mahmoud, Taleb Abdulazeez, and Essayed Taha

Eleven Arabic-Language Poets: Muhammad al-Maghout, Saniyya Saleh, Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud, Tariq al-Karmi, Khawla Dunia, Widad Nabi, Mohamed Ali Yousfi, Fowziyya Abu-Khalid, Adel Mahmoud, Taleb Abdulazeez, and Essayed Taha

Translated by Zeina Azzam and Sharif S. Elmusa


Nothing, we believe, is lost in the translation of literary works. A translated poem is a unique kind of immigrant, a naturalized citizen who speaks a new language. It is a remake that neither erases nor negates the original, which stays in its first habitat. It is a poem gained; whether and how much it thrives in the new abode may depend on its quality and what host critics and readers make of it. We think of these fourteen poems in English as memories that conjure the original ones in Arabic. We tried to keep the essence, if not the letter, of these memories, enabling them to adapt in English.

Arabic, one of the United Nations’ six official languages, is the official tongue of the twenty-two countries of the Arab League, spoken—with varying national and local vernaculars—by more than 400 million people. Poetry, it is said, was the highest literary achievement of the Arabs and historically, tribes and rulers had poets as their official voices for eulogies, elegies, and even lampoons. It had already established a veritable presence in the pre-Islamic (pre-seventh century CE) Arabian Peninsula, and continues to thrive today. At present, it is not uncommon for major poets to command audiences for their readings in the hundreds, and even thousands.

Translations of Arabic poetry are available in many individual volumes and anthologies, especially those edited by the prolific Salma Khadra Jayyusi (Columbia University Press). There are also translations of individual modern poets, like the late Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, Syrian Adonis (aka Ali Ahmad Said), and Iraqi Saadi Youssef—all major modernist poets. Those represented here write in a form called in Arabic shi’r al-nathr, or “prose poetry,” an idiosyncratic understanding of “free verse.” It represents the second major departure from the form of the classical Arabic qasida (traditional ode) with its mono-rhyme and unvaried meter. We cannot overemphasize here that this is different from the American form of prose poetry or its French precursor. It is akin to “free verse,” with its line breaks, and its practitioners often forgo meter and rhyme altogether.

The first break, seen as heretical at the time it was introduced, continued the deployment of rhyme and meter, but unlike the classical qasida, the rhyme schemes were variable within the same poem, and so were the meters. Two of its pioneers were the Iraqi poets Nazik al-Malaika and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. It was highly influenced by French and American modernism, especially by the work of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

The subsequent shift to “prose poetry” was led by two poets from Syria, the late Muhammad al-Maghout and Saniyya Saleh, husband and wife, who are both included at the start of the present selection. Today, “prose poetry” has become the form of choice among many young poets, even among some established poets like Taleb Abdulazeez (Iraq) in this collection.

In a way this “prose poetry,” still under scrutiny among Arab critics and poets, is perhaps easier to translate without departing radically from the form than the classical and highly structured qasida, with its metrical foot and rhyme. Nonetheless, the translator of Arabic poetry must overcome many hurdles, including the usual imprecision and multiple meanings of the same word, structure of sentence, tense, and speaker. To illustrate, a word like “eid” in Arabic can mean a religious or secular holiday, a feast, and simply a “day,” as in Labor Day. In the poem by Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud (Palestine), we translated the word as feast, although in Arabic it could evoke the other senses also. Another problem is gender. In the Arabic language, like in French for instance, all nouns are either masculine or feminine, and the grammar—and sometimes the sense—is dictated by the gender. In Mohamed Ali Yousfi’s (Tunisia) poem, “One Swallow Is Not Enough,” we used “he” to refer to the swallow as the poet speaks of this bird in Arabic. And not only for this reason, for the poem itself imputes human characteristics to this bird: “cunning,” “jesting,” and “playing.” On the whole, however, we employed “it” for the nonhuman subject. The representation of the sense of time also differs in Arabic from English. In an Arabic poem, the poet can switch the tense to reflect either the subjective feeling or the type of action; for instance, if an action is habitual, the poet may use the present, even in the middle of a stanza about the past. In postmodern writing the sense of time and the narrator have become more flexible, and the late John Ashbery switched both speaker and tense liberally in his verse. In the end, translation is a transmission not just of words, but of culture as well.

In this connection, it may also be necessary to clarify the transliteration of the names of the poets. The reader who knows Arabic will notice inconsistencies in our English spellings. The reason for this is that Arab poets do not render their names using consistent systems of transliteration, and we have opted where possible to include the English spelling used by the poets themselves. Where this is not available, we employed a modified Library of Congress system. For instance, this system transliterates “محمد”as “Muhammad,” whereas the Tunisian poet Yousfi, whose first name is “,محمد” spells it as “Mohamed”; therefore, we chose the poet’s own spelling.

Here we feature poets who are scarcely known in the United States, and we include both the African and Asian wings of the Arab world: three poets from Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia, and eight poets who hail from the Asian part. Because of space considerations, we included only seven of the twenty-two Arab countries. We chose, however, to highlight Syria, by including more poets from that country, which has been savagely destroyed by civil war and many of its poets are now in exile. We would have also liked to include voices from other countries in this collection, especially poets from Yemen and Sudan. We were able to do better, however, on gender balance, and translate an equal number of poems by men and women.

The word for poet in Arabic is sha’ir, which means a person who senses and feels. Indeed, the poets in this selection cover a rich canvas of subjects and sensibilities such as love, war, the passage of time, poetry, spring, erotica, refusal to leave the homeland, the Mediterranean city, and a mother recounting to her son (the poet) the minutiae of her bearing and giving birth to him.

Even the same theme is handled differently. Love in Saniyya Saleh’s poem is of the romantic variety, where the lover is portrayed as a social fugitive; in Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud’s poem, love takes place at a café in the United States but recalls Saladin and Jerusalem; in Widad Nabi’s (Syria), men’s love for her is likened to their destructive love of and brutality against the Syrian city of Aleppo; in Fowziyya Abu-Khalid’s (Saudi Arabia), the bed becomes a place where apparently a young woman humiliates an aging husband, yet in another erotic poem of hers, love is highly sensualized; and in Taleb Abdulazeez’s verse, the addressee is asked to observe love and poetry in the city streets and not on sheets of paper or in the imagination.

The poets are cosmopolitan in their vision and, further, their sources of influence are not limited to the Arabic tradition. To illustrate, Essayed Taha’s (Egypt) lines, “Exactly in mid-week/exactly in mid-summer…” recall Federico García Lorca’s “It was exactly five in the afternoon” (in “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias”); and “Greeting” by Tariq al-Karmi (Algeria) is Whitmanesque in its inclusiveness, without ricocheting and becoming self-absorbed.

We are immensely grateful to Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka, co-editor of Loch Raven Review, for inviting us to curate this Arabic translation section of the journal. She gave us free rein in choosing the poets and poems and we appreciate her vote of confidence in our selections. It was a distinct pleasure to work with Danuta. Our gratitude also goes to the Iraqi American poet Dunya Mikhail who kindly gave us personal introductions to a few Arab poets, two of whom are featured in this collection. And we offer deep thanks to the eleven poets whose rich work we were privileged to translate for this publication. Finally, a big thank-you to Ginny Phalen, who cheerfully navigated all the right-left language issues with Arabic to format the poems on the website.

In all, we settled in our search on these poems because we loved their fresh images, their language that straddles the quotidian and the erudite, their deep affinity with and insights into the human and the non-human condition, and their sharp angles of vision. Each of them made us see the world a little more clearly, as good poetry is meant to do. We trust that our renditions of their poems convey the quality and depth of their work. We also hope our translations will induce the reader who is new to the Arabic poetic tradition to continue to explore this verse and seek out the works of both well-known and emerging Arab poets.

Zeina Azzam and Sharif S. Elmusa, Guest Co-Editors

Muhammad al-Maghout (Syria)

Platonic Love

For all the days I spent without food
and nights without covers,
all the mocking of my old rags during holidays.
For every night I spent homeless in the streets,
asleep in orchards and gardens.
For each louse this or that barber found
while inspecting my hair,
each discarded cigarette butt in my mouth.
For every time the water was cut off while I bathed,
the electricity while I shaved,
the phone while I talked.
For when my name was not allowed
on listeners’ requests radio programs
or cited in readers’ mail,
or when my joining a political party was refused,
my participation in a political rally or sports match denied.
For each time I entered the movie parlor or theater,
whether to cheer or to jeer,
a door or window was slammed in my face,
or I was expelled from a cafe, bar, job, or school.
For every one of those instances I was turned down,
I want to be paid in poetry
or with a new, single, poetic image.
And then I will let bygones be bygones!

(محمد الماغوط (سوريا

 حب افلاطوني

كل الايام التي قضيتها بلا طعام
والليالي بلا غطاء
وكل سخرية من اسمالي في الاعياد
وكل ليلة قضيتها مشردا في الشوارع
او نائما في البساتين والحدائق
وكل قملة عثر عليها هذا الحلاق او ذاك المفتش في راسي
وعقب سيجارة ملتقطة من الشارع في فمي
وكل مرة انقطعت فيها المياه وانا استحم
او انطفات الكهرباء وانا احلق
او الاتصال الهاتفي وانا اتحدث
وكل مرة رفض اذاعة اسمي في برامج ما يطلبه المستمعون
او كتابته في بريد القراء
ورفض انتسابي لاي حزب
او اشتراكي في اي مباراة او مظاهرة
او دخولي السينما او المسرح
كمشجع او مصفر
او صفق في وجهي باب او نافذة
وطردت من مقهى او حانة او عمل او مدرسة
اريد ثمنه شعرا
او صورة شعرية واحدة جديدة
!!وعفا الله عما مضى

Saniyya Saleh (Syria)

Stars Clustered

Stars clustered
like fingers:
open your palms.
Do you have something to hide?
Are you clutching an axe?
the distance is great
and the victim is sure to survive.
I rest my head against the wall,
watch houses, deliberately unlit—
your houses, autumn,
are no shelter for my heart.
Sing, lover.
Hold your brass horn
and be a consolation for my heart.
And you, rain,
multiply in the palm of my hand
to distract me.
Let me bathe in your vigor
before I lose my joy and mischief,
before your night dims my moon.
We are both fugitives,
you in your clouds,
I in my earth.

(سنية صالح (سوريا

النجوم المتراصّة

أيتها النجوم المتراصّة
.ابسطي راحتيك
هل ثمة شيء تخفينه؟
أم هناك فأس تقبضين عليها؟
المسافة بعيدة
والضحية ستنجو
.لا محالة
أسند رأسي على الحائط
،أرقب بيوتاً تطفأ عن عمد
بيوتك أيها الخريف
.ولا مأوى لقلبي
غَنّ أيها العاشق
خذ مزمارك النحاسي وغَنّ
.وكن سلوى لقلبي
تكاثر في راحتي أيها المطر
لألهو بِكَ
قبل أن أفقد مَرحي وظمئي
.قبل أن يبتعد ليلك عن قمري
كلانا شريدان
أنت منفيّ في سمائك
.وأنا منفية في أرضي

Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud (Palestine)


Coffee on the fabled sidewalk
and idleness in the buzz of the afternoon.
I shred the paper napkins
in the café that brought us together
behind the rout of autumn’s leaves.
Why did we meet?
What is life, bereft of nectar?

The café was political,
like men who lost their identity
but did not forget the language of words.
It was poetic,
but unlike the cafes of the East,
clean, no dust, free of pain,
cleared of the ashes of life.
It collapses in tears.


The café was American.
No scent of Arab in it
except for you,
and the poetry in which we tried to recall the day
we met a thousand years ago
there, near the last Saladin
in Jerusalem
where love, people, and ants now die
and nothing remains
except for images
that alone laugh
while the heart weeps.
They alone alight on the cup’s rim,
nap on the napkin’s cheek.

For an instant the coffee
sheds the taste of longing
without the confusion of blackness.
And the poem is awakened.


And I am as I was
as I will be
and you, as you were
as you are
as you will be
always on your way elsewhere
with another woman
or on a sip of old wine.


How often history repeats,
how often do I hear heartbeats yet again
like the buzzing of bees
or the whining of a child
once promised a mother and a home
but left with
neither embrace nor shelter.


And how we long the same onging
then are overwhelmed by the day of chaos.
at nightfall
nothing vanishes except us.


Come close, like the night,
like an orphaned promise
that was never born.
Go away
like evening moths burned to ashes
in the cold’s shiver
on the first feast day.
How lovely tears are,
born to tell how much the heart cannot lie
yet how much words can.

(سهير ابو عقصة داود (فلسطين


قهوة على الرصيف الخرافي
وكسل فوق خلايا العصر
اقصقص ورق المقهى الذي جمّعنا
خلف انسحاق الخريف
لماذا اجتمعنا؟
وما لنا بعد في العمر باق؟
ولا رحيق
سياسيا مثل رجال فقدوا الهوية
لكن لم ينسوا لغة الكلام
بعكس مقاهي الشرق
نظيف من التراب
من العذاب
من رماد العمر يسقط للبكاء


امريكيا كان
لا رائحة للعرب فيه
وشعر نحاول نذكرفيه يوم اجتمعنا من الف عام
هناك عند صلاح الدين الاخير
..في القدس
حيث يموت النمل والبشر والحب
ولا يبقى الا
وحدها تضحك
حين يبكي القلب
وحدها تطفو على شفه الفنجان
تغفو على خد  الورق
للحظة تصير القهوة بدون مذاق البعاد
بدون ارتباك السواد
وتصحو القصيده

لا شيء

وانا كما كنتُ
كما سأكون
وانتَ كما كنتَ
كما انت
كما ستكون
دائماً على موعد آخر
مع امرأة اخرى
او رشفة من نبيذ عتيق


إلهي كم يعيد التاريخ نفسه
كم اسمع نبض القلب مرة اخرى
كطنين النحل
كأنين طفل
وُعِد بأم وبيت
وبقي بلا حضن ولا جدران


وكم نشتاق ذات الشوق
ويغمرنا نهار الفوضى
حين يأتي الليل
لاشيء ينسحق سوانا


اقترب كالليل، كالوعد الذي
لا اب له
ولا ميلاد
كفراش السهرة التي صارت رماداً
في رجفة البرد
في اول الاعياد

.ما اجمل الدموع
خُلقت لتحكي كم لا يستطيع القلب ان يكذب
كم تستطيع ان تكذب الكلمات

Tariq al-Karmi (Algeria)

The Greeting

Good morning to the cat
as it emerges from the trash bin.
I send morning greetings by email to the heavens.
Good morning to the laborers in the bread riots.
I say, good morning to the street, the city’s main artery.
Good morning to the tailor at the alley’s entrance
suturing the flesh of my shirt.
Good morning, girls
parachuting down the stairs in their school uniforms.
To the bird flapping its wings over the world.
To my friend’s heart swollen with hurt.
To the grocer between the shelves of food cans.
To the universe, good morning in a child’s stride.
A thousand good mornings
to you, Morning.

(طارق الكرمي (الجزائر


صباح الخير للقط
يطل من حاوية
أبعث  صباح الخير ايميلا الى الله
صباح الخير للعمال في شغب الخبز
أقول صباح الخيرأيها الشارع  يا شريانا تاجيا
صباح الخيرللخياط  في مطلع الزقاق يقطب
لحم قميصي
يا صباح الخير ايتها الفتيات
تهبطن ببراشوت المراييل مدرج الصباح
للطير يفرد لي جناحا الى الدنيا
لقلب صديقي الذي نتأ له نيوب صباح الخير
للبقال بين الرفوف المعلبات
ايها العالم صباح الخير في خطوة الطفل
صباح الخير الفا
ايها الصباح

Khawla Dunia (Syria)


Finger does not rest.
Wrist propped up by Fate.
Fate doomed by an idiotic rifle.
And you.

How do you know who I am?
Who taught you what you will do to me?

Who froze you in the maze of this moment?
Your eye,
a bullet,
and me.

You write your life
as you snatch the lives of others.
You unleash fate with your finger,
take a sigh.
You live on the rooftop.
A void lives in you.

Hey you, who are you?
And who am I?
An eye,
a bullet,
and me.

It was the moment, then, that drew us together,
that wrenched me from my dream
and gave you your name:

(خولة دنيا (سوريا)


إِصبعٌ لا يستريحُ
زِندٌ يَتَكِئُ القدَر
قدرٌ محكومٌ ببندقيةٍ بلهاءَ

ما أدراكَ من أنا؟
من علمكَ ما أنتَ فاعلٌ بي
من جَمَّدَكَ في متاهةِ اللحظة
هي اللحظةُ التي جَمَعتـنا

تكتبُ حياتَكَ لحظاتٍ تَسرِقُ حيوات
تُطلقُ القَدرَ بإصبَعِكَ
تأخذُ تنهيدةً
تسكنُ السطحَ
ويَسكُنُكَ الفراغ

ياأنتَ.. من أنت؟
ومن أنا؟

هي اللحظةُ إذن ما جَمَعَنا
فَرقَتني عن حلمي
وأعطَتكَ اسمَكَ

Widad Nabi (Syria)

Love Is Blue Bruises

Many men loved me
as if I were Aleppo
and stalked me on both dirt and paved roads.
They set traps of seduction,
painted the scent of wild deer on their bodies,
broke my mirrors and threw them under the soldiers’ feet.
And I was not as beautiful as the Aleppo
over which the war was fought.
I was a solitary woman
who strolled under the cherry trees every spring,
her skin, the color of wheat and washed by tears,
was like the first dawn that emerged on this Earth.
A solitary woman
many men love
while she is preoccupied
with erasing the dirge of war around Aleppo’s name.

Many men loved me
like any old quarter of Aleppo,
the city whose heart is bolted by seven locks,
the first gate
crossed by the one who carries his mother on his back
after he leaves Aleppo defeated.
The one who loves cats and smiles
crosses the second gate,
when they meow dejectedly in the deserted streets of Aleppo.
And the third gate
is crossed by the one who does not cry
if the scent of his birthplace is not found in exile.
The fourth gate is for the one who begets children
and names them after his former lovers.
The fifth is for the one whose heart knows regret, like children.
The sixth is crossed by the one who forgets everything
in his old age and remembers Aleppo’s name.
And the seventh gate is crossed by the one who utters my name
with familiarity, as if it were his only home.

As if I were Aleppo
many men loved me.
They held me without mercy as if I were the scent of their country
which they were forced to leave.

They wounded me and hung my heart
in the highest minaret of the Umayyad Mosque.
Then they tortured it
as if it were a bird caught in the trap
of the soldiers who destroyed Aleppo.
They plucked his colorful feathers and laughed,
tore his throat that sang poems for them, and then they wept.
They pierced his eyes with thorns and screamed from the severe pain.
They bandaged the wounds and regretted the deed
but whenever they saw the bird alive, never to die,
they carved their names on his flesh with sharp knives
as the residents had done on Aleppo’s walls before they fled.
The men who loved me left bite-marks on my armpits
as if they were savage soldiers
and sang for the distress in my cry,
Blue bruises on the body are love.

The men
The beautiful
The liars
The honest ones
The prophets
The fallen
The caught-in-muck
The faithful—
I forsook them and stayed,
a solitary woman who drank from Aleppo’s water,
who teaches Aleppo’s women to leave the drawers of water
because the cherry tree in her heart’s forest
bears sour fruit irrigated by their love.
A woman
whose tree has never borne sweet cherries
that would arouse the lover in her to call,
I want you, like a home in Aleppo.
A solitary woman, when asked after every wound,
What is love?
She answered, tenderly,
Love is blue bruises on the body
as if it were the body of war-torn Aleppo.

(وداد نبي (سوريا

الحب كدمات زرقاء على الجسد

كما لو كنتُ حلب
أحبَّني رجالٌ كثر
وترصّدوا خُطاي على الطرقاتِ الترابية والإسفلتية 
نصبوا لي فخاخ الغواية 
دهنوا رائحة الغزال الطريد على أجسادهم
كسروا مراياي ورموها تحت أقدام الجنود
وأنا لم أكن جميلة كـ”حلب” التي دارت بسببها الحرب
امرأة وحيدة كنتُ
تمشي تحت أشجار الكرز كل ربيع 
فتشبه ببشرتها الحنطية المغسولة بالدموع
كأول فجرٍ بزغ على الأرض 
امرأة وحيدة 
يحبها رجال كثر 
فيما هي منشغلة عنهم 
.بمحو أثر ندبة الحرب حول اسم حلب

أحبَّني رجالٌ كثر
كأيَّ حي قديم من أحياء حلب 
كحي قلبه مرصودٌ بسبعة أقفالٍ 
الباب الأول 
يتخطاهُ من حمل أمه على ظهرهِ حينما خرج من حلب منكسرًا 
الباب الثاني 
يتخطاهُ من يحب القطط ويبتسم لها 
حينما تموء بحزن في شوارع حلب المهجورة من سكانها
الباب الثالث 
يتخطاهُ من يبكي لأن المنفى ليست
له رائحة مسقط رأسه 
الباب الرابع 
يتخطاهُ من ينجب أطفالًا ويطلق عليهم 
أسماء حبيباته السابقات 
الباب الخامس 
يتخطاهُ من يعرف قلبه الندم كالأطفال
الباب السادس 
يتخطاهُ من ينسى كل شيء في شيخوخته 
ويتذكر اسم حلب

الباب السابع 
..يتخطاهُ من ينطقُ اسمي بألفةٍ كما لو كان بيتهُ الوحيد

كما لو كنتُ حلب
أحبَّني رجالٌ كثر
ضموني بقسوةٍ كما لو كنتُ رائحة بلادهم
التي هُجِروا منها مرغمين 
جرحوني وعلقوا قلبي في أعلى مئذنة الجامع الأموي 
عذبوا قلبي 
كما لو كان طائرًا في مصيدة الجنود الذين دمروا حلب 
نتفوا ريشهُ الملون وضحكوا
مزقوا حنجرته التي غنى بها القصائد لهم وبكوا
غرسوا الشوك في عينه وصرخوا من شدةِ الألم
ضمدوا جراحه وندموا
لكنهم كلما شاهدوه حيًا لا يموت
حفروا بسكاكينهم الحادة أسماءهم عليه 
كما فعل سكان حلب مع جدرانها حينما رُحِلوا منها
الرجال الذين أحبوني 
كانوا يتركون آثار عضاتهم الصغيرة 
تحت إبطي بوحشيةٍ كما لو كانوا جنودًا
كانوا يملؤون جسدي بالكدماتِ الزرقاء
:ويغنون للأسى الذي في صرختي
“الكدماتُ الزرقاء على الجسدِ هي الحُب”
هجرتُهم وبقيتُ
امرأة وحيدة شربت من ماء حلب
التي تُعلمُ نساءها التخلي عن سُقاتِها
لأن شجرة الكرز في غابة قلبها 
تثمرُ كرزًا حامضًا بماء حبهم 
لم تثمر شجرتها كرزًا حلوًا لمرة 
“تجعلُ العاشقة فيها تهتفُ بعبارة “أريدكَ كبيتٍ في حلب
امرأة وحيدة
إذ سألوها بعد كل جرحٍ 
!ما هو الحب؟
:أجابتهم بحنانٍ
الحب كدماتٌ زرقاءٌ على الجسد
.كما لو كان جسد حلب في الحرب


Mohamed Ali Yousfi (Tunisia)

One Swallow Is Not Enough

Spring surprised us with abundant rains.
We marched toward the swallow,
a bird in the habit of flitting away
like a rabbit in the woods:
all we see is a flutter in the grass
after each of his leaps.
How many springs slipped by
until I became used to guarding my seeds?
Despite the bird’s jesting with a bashful sun
he called us to get close,
but we took refuge in the tumult of the house
to dodge his cunning:
his sun is a half-debt owed,
running some of the affairs of winter,
paying the debt and deflecting blame.
Goodness radiated from his figure.
We relished watching the month of March
at our windows.
He leapt like a fawn
while the spirit in his glow
was keen to play.


There is something of autumn
in the quiver of spring,
each holds the plunder of two seasons,
and it always approaches you, bewildered,
looking both ways:
After the first,
behind the second,
like an unsuspecting howling,
a concert of cold, winter wolves.


April appears warily as a grass snake.
It sheds the swagger of a surplus day,
swinging from the tail of March,
reversing its coiled steps in its own mirror
in order to turn around.
Here it comes, its sky in its Earth,
with this fog its vast space
overlooking the flame.


Is it a bird in the woods
that conjures names in my memory?
I was not here yesterday
when a water spring beckoned
between the genista flowers and the lilies.
Whether a grasshopper or a thorn,
everything was transforming
under suns that would roast
the last of the grasses.
By the water spring yesterday
I said: The fairest day in April
is one that must not be named!
So why did I wake up a hunter,
with names flapping,
pecking seeds from my windowsill?

(محمد علي اليوسفي (تونس

سنونوة واحدة لا تكفي

:حل الربيع عابثا فينا بميزان المياه
سرنا اليه هذه المرة؛
،من عادته الافلات مثل ارنب في غابة
فلا نرى منه سوى ارتعاشة  في العشب
.بعد كل وثبة ترومها خطاه
كم ربيعا تسلل حتى تعوّدتُ رصد بذوري؟
.برغم مداعبة  الطيرشمسا خجولا دعانا اليه
:فلذنا بدوّامة البيت للالتفاف على مكره
شمسه نصف دين عليه؛
تُصرِّف بعض شؤون الشتاء
.لسد الديون ورفع العتب
.شعّ في طين نشأته بلَل فقنعنا باذار خلف نوافذنا
،كان مثل صغير الغزالة في طين وثبته
.بينما الروح في لمعة الفرو منذورة للعب


:ثمة شيء من الخريف في رعشة الربيع فلنلتفت اليه
،كلاهما نهب فصلين
:ومرتبكا يأتيك، ملتفتا دوما، الى جهتين
،ما بعد الاول
،خلف الثاني
…كمين عواء
.جوقة برد وذئاب شتاء


.ابريل في حذريُطل بِحَيّة الاعشاب
يترك ِرِفْل يوم فائض
،متأرجحاً في ذيل مارس
عاكسا خطواته الرّخّاء في مرآته كي ينقلب؛
،هو ذا يجيء: سماؤه في ارضه، وفضاؤه هذا الضباب
.يطل منه على اللهب


أطائر في غابة يحرض الاسماء في ذاكرتي؟
!بالامس لم اكن هنا، ما بين برواق ووَزّال، بدا نبعٌ
،وكان كل شيء في تحول
سواء جندب أم شوكة
.تحت شموس سوف تشوي آخر الاعشاب
:بالامس قرب النبع قلت
(!أجمل الايام في نيسان، يوم لا يُسمّى)
،فلم استيقظت صيادا
،وأسماء ترفُّ
تنقر الزُّوّانَ من نافذتي؟

Fowziyya Abu-Khalid (Saudi Arabia)


He set his trap
at her shoulder blade.
But the regressions of aging
and life’s preoccupations
wore him out.
Whenever he became sleepy
or gripped by a coughing fit
the victim began to humiliate him
by her surrender
like a dark wild thorn
that snapped in his throat.

Stretched on a Wooden Hanger

The wood of the hanger
nearly transforms
into an acacia tree
whenever it rubs against
the heat of her spirit,
the spirit glued
to the cloth.
The cloth almost reverts back
to a cotton flower
whenever it is stung
by the scent of her soap.
And whenever her long chestnut hair
drips on the soap,
almost dissolving it
into a stream of jasmine,
the condensation of water drops creates
a cloud that heaves fierce waterfalls
each time it jostles the silk of her waist.
The wet robe alone
stands on the hanger,

(فوزية ابو خالد (السعودية

سن يأس

نصب مصيدته عند
استدارة رمانه كتفها
ولكن غلبته أحكام السن
والتزامات السياسة
صارت الفريسة كلما نعس أو
انتابته نوبة السعال تذله
باستسلامها كشوكة
سوداء وحشية انكسرت
.في حلقه

 ملقى على مشجب خشبي

ملقى على مشجب خشبي
خشب المشجب على وشك
أن يتحول
إلى شجرة سدر
كلما احتك بحرارة روحها
القماش على وشك أن يعود إلى
زهرة قطن كلما لسعته
رائحة صابونها
الصابونة على وشك أن
تنحل إلى غدير ياسمين
كلما تساقطت عليها قطرات من
كستناء شعرها الطويل
قطرات الماء تتكاثف مكونة
غيمة تذرف شلالات شرسة
كلما اصطدمت بحرير خاصرتها
الروب الرطب وحده
يقف على المشجب

Adel Mahmoud (Syria)

From The Almonds of Time

Fifty years after our first encounter,
as I made my way to you,
the road grew old and hunchbacked
and my feet stuttered on the curbs of the past.
I mistakenly knocked on a door.
An elderly woman opened, thinking I was
the smith coming to fix her broken window.
I knock on doors … no one answers.
I’m lost in the wilderness.
The only thing left ahead
is to knock on the seven gates of Damascus.
I enter as a peaceful conqueror with
warm milk for a sword, hands full of bread.
I ask the passersby, frightened by my presence,
Have you seen my love?


When did you last check your bookshelves for dust?
Is this an attempt to forget?
Today, I dusted off long-forgotten books,
my lungs filled with the noble dust
and I missed
my ignorance.


Save yourself.
Flee from this country.
Sail the oceans.
Go to the north, safety,
to the south
of the strangers’ illusions.
Go where the first humans set foot.
Photograph eternity in the skull of ages.
As for me,
leave me here.
Here in this land,
in the company of those with
ravaged cities and ships.
And when you return to us,
safe and prosperous,
look for me, a man
on the verge of extinction.
You’ll find me in the same place,
as you left me:
unhurried, patching my shoes and paths,
smoking pipe dreams on the remains of a balcony.
Next to me is a grandchild, not yet a poet,
like a golden squirrel,
he peels for me
the almonds of time.

*Translators’ note: We changed the title of this poem to “The Almonds of Time,” from the original “The Night Is the Best Kind of Human.”

(عادل محمود (سوريا

مقتطفات من: الليل افضل انواع الانسان

…بعد خمسين عاماً من لقائنا الأول
،احدودب الطريق، وأنا ذاهب إليك
.وتلعثمت قدماي، على أرصفة الماضي
…قرعت باباً خطأً
.فتحت عجوزٌ ظنتني حدّاد شباكها المكسور
.أقرعُ أبواباً أخرى…. لم يفتح أحد
أنا في التيه… إذن
.لم يبق أمامي سوى أن أقرع أبواب دمشق السبعة
وأدخل فاتحاً، مسالماً، بسيف من حليب ساخن… ويدي مليئة
:وأسأل المارة المذعورين مني
من رأى منكم حبيبي؟


منذ متى لم تتفقد غبار كتبك في الرفوف؟
أهذه محاولة للنسيان؟
.اليوم… نفضت غبار كتب منسية
…فامتلأت رئتاي بالماضي الكريم


انج بنفسك
اهرب من هذه البلاد
أبحر في المحيطات
.اذهب إلى شمال النجاة، وجنوب أوهام الغرباء
.اذهب إلى موطىء قدم الإنسان الأول
…صوّر الزمان في جمجمة العصور
…أما أنا
.فاتركني هنا
،هنا في هذه البلاد
.أنا وهؤلاء الذين تحطمت مرافقهم ومراكبهم
.وعندما تعود إلينا، غانماً وسالماً، ابحث عني، كرجل آيل للإنقراض
:ولسوف تراني، في نفس المكان، كما تركتني هنا
،متمهلاً أرفو حذائي ودروبي
.أدخن، على بقايا شرفةٍ، غليون السحاب
،وإلى جواري حفيدٌ، لم يصبح شاعراً بعد
،يقشّر لي، كسنجوب ذهبي
.لوز الأيام

Taleb Abdulazeez (Iraq)

At Paul Valéry Restaurant

In the restaurant named after Paul Valéry in Sète, France,
poets do not scribble their poetry on paper
because it is available on the sidewalks.
It is inhaled by beach goers
and returned by drunken chefs from boats and bars.
In the restaurant where we’ve always met at noon,
the blooms of the giant tree clogged the sinks,
yellow flowers inundating the chairs and tables.
The girls’ bench at the entrance was also yellow
as was the bus ticket to Montpelier.
Poetry in Sète has the meaning of flowers,
the taste of wine and croissants,
a scent of the breeze, color of a kiss.
So don’t search your imagination
for how a breast is shaped to write an erotic poem
or steal a glance from a veranda on the sea
to imagine a couple in love
for clothes contain no more than the streets reveal.
Don’t recite poetry in Sète, don’t write it:
It lives on in the ample light,
in the absolute space
between the kiss and the wine glass.

(طالب عبد العزيز (العراق

“في مطعم “بول فاليري

“في المطعمِ الذي كُنيتهُ “بول فاليري” بـ “سيت
في فرنسا، حيث لا يكتبُ الشُّعراءُ قصائدَهم على الورق
،هو متاحٌ على الأرصفة
يتنفسهُ الذاهبونَ إلى البحر
.ويعودُ به الطُّهاةُ السُّكارى من القواربِ والحانات
في المطعم الذي كان مُجتَمَعَنا كلَّ ظهيرة
سدَّتْ ازهارُ الشَّجرةِ الكبيرةِ مواسيرَ المغاسِل
الازهارُ صفراءَ ظلّتْ تنهمرُ كثيفةً على المقاعدِ والطاولات
.مَجلِسُ الفتياتِ عِندَ المدخلِ أصفرُ أيضاً
“كذلك كانت بطاقةُ الباصِ الى “مونبليه
الشِّعرُ في سيت بمعنى الزهرِ ، بطعمِ النبيذِ والكرواسان
.برائحةِ النسائم وألوانِ القُبل
فلا تبحثْ في خيالكَ عن شكلِ النَّهد كي تكتبَ قصيدةً فاحشةً
لا تسرقْ نظرةً من شُرفةٍ على البحرِ
.كيما تتخيلَ صورةَ عاشِقَيَن
فما في الثيابِ اكثرُ مما تُرسلهُ الشوارعُ اليكْ
لا تقلْ الشِّعرَ في سيت، لا تكتبهُ
،هو خالدٌ في فُسحةِ الضَّوءِ
.في المسافةِ المُطلقةِ بينَ القبلةِ وكأسِ النَّبيذ

Essayed Taha (Egypt)

Our City Without Makeup

We were very Alexandrian.
We skipped over the alphabet,
discarded all the diacritical marks
and swapped gruff sounds
with softer ones
so they wouldn’t get stuck in our throats.
We spoke in the plural
while referring to the singular.

Our city knows the lightness of salty water
and dancing under the sultry sun
and the pain of joints
and the broken halves of cups that refract light
in streets that grow out of cracks in the asphalt.
Our city collects rain water in pools and neighborhoods,
between streetcars.
Our city indulges the amber of autumn in blue and green.

Alexandria knows your hair,
how you wash and dry it.
Knows the mole you hide on your shoulder
and that one evening, it will pack your bags
like a good grandmother
so you can try another city.

Mama Says She Has Cramps*

Mama says she has cramps
that remind her of the day I was born.
She repeats the minutiae of that day’s story
which she doesn’t forget,
as if she had just finished pushing me out
in the direction of all that pain,
as if it were inevitable
that she would pass some of it to me,
because, in any case, it was more
than a single person could bear.
She says it was a Tuesday
exactly in mid-week,
exactly in mid-summer,
exactly in mid-year,
exactly in mid-identity,
so I could become a man whose garment doesn’t fit him
looking for another voice in his vocal cords.
Mama says her uterus stretched that day
enough to give birth to four more children
without its muscles sagging.
And she was startled when she held me, a boy, in her arms
because she had saddled that fetus
with more than a man’s body could bear.
*Translators’ note: This fragment of the long poem about Alexandria did not have a separate heading in the original; we gave it the above title.

(السيد طه (مصر

مدينتنا التي سقط عن واجهاتها الطلاء

كنا (اسكندرانيين) جدًا؛
قفزنا فوق الحروف
واسقطنا جميع الهمزات
واستبدلنا الضاد دالًا
– كي لا تقف في حلوقفنا
وتكلمنا بنون الجماعة
بينما كل منا يشير إلى نفسه

مدينتنا التي تعرف خفة الماء المالح
والرقص تحت الشمس الحارقة
وألم المفاصل
وأنصاف الأكواب المكسورة التي يتفتت فيها النور
،في شوارع تنبت من شقوق الأسفلت
مدينتنا التي تحتفظ بمياه الأمطار في بركها وحواريها
،وبين قضبان الترام
مدينتنا التي تمنح صفرة الخريف زرقتها إخضرارًا
تعرف شعرك
كيف تغسلينه وتجففينه

وتعرف الشامة التي تخفينها على كتفك
وتعرف أنها ستحزم حقائبك ذات مساء
.كجدة طيبة

تقول ماما أنها تشعر بمغص

تقول ماما أنها تشعر بمغص
يذكرها بيوم ولادتي
وتعيد حكاية تفاصيل اليوم
الذي لا تنساه كأنها للتو انتهت من دفعي
،في اتجاه كل ذلك الألم
كأنها كان لا بد أن تمنحني بعضًا منه
– لأنه أكثر من أن يتحمله شخص واحد على أي حال
تقول أنه كان يوم ثلاثاء
تمامًا في منتصف الأسبوع
تمامًا في منتصف الصيف
تمامًا في منتصف السنة
تمامًا في منتصف الهوية
كي أصبح رجلًا في ثوب لا يناسبه
،يبحث عن صوت أخر في أحباله الصوتية
تقول ماما أن رحمها اتسع بما يكفي ذلك اليوم
كي يمنح الحياة لأربعة أطفال أخرين
،دون أن تصاب عضالته بالترهل
وأنها فوجئت حين احتضنتي بين ذراعيها صبيًا
لأنها وضعت في ذلك الجنين
.أكثر مما قد يحتمله جسد رجل

© Zeina Azzam, Sharif S. Elmusa, Muhammad al-Maghout, Saniyya Saleh, Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud, Tariq al-Karmi, Khawla Dunia, Widad Nabi, Mohamed Ali Yousfi , Fowziyya Abu-Khalid, Adel Mahmoud, Taleb Abdulazeez, and Essayed Taha

Taleb Abdulazeez (1953- ) was born in Basrah, Iraq. He has published five poetry books in Arabic including The History of Sorrow, which was named the best book in 1994 by the Baghdad Cultural Affairs Publishing House. His book, Two Paths to Water, One by Land, was released in 2016, and another publication, From the Hotel to the Bar, is in press with Dar al- Mada in Baghdad.

Fowziyya Abu-Khalid (1955- ) was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She is a poet, sociologist, and professor at King Saud University in Riyadh and holds a PhD in sociology. Her poetry collections include Until When Will They Abduct You on Your Wedding Night? and Mirage Water. Her collected poems appeared in 2015. She is an advocate for women’s rights and human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud (1969- ) is a Palestinian poet and writer. She is from Mi’liya village in the western Galilee and currently serves as a professor of politics at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. She holds a PhD in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has published four volumes of Arabic poetry and literature.

Khawla Dunia (1968- ) was born in Damascus, Syria. She is a poet, activist, journalist, and humanitarian aid worker. Dunia is a founder of Najda Now, an organization that provides relief to people displaced by the Syrian civil war. Currently she works with the Syrian Women’s Network. She received the Human Rights and Humanitarian Work award from the German organization Lew Kopelew. Her first collection of poetry, “Overhasty Poems Before the Missile Falls,” was published by Amarji Magazine in 2012 during the Syrian revolution.

Tariq al-Karmi is an Algerian poet. We made every effort to contact the poet for biographical information to no avail. His poem, “The Greeting,” appears as one of ten of his poems on www.adab.com, which includes poets from all over the Arab world. Algeria’s poetry in Arabic has faced an uphill struggle as a result of long suppression of the language by French colonialism. The poem was written before the still-inconclusive Algerian “Spring”; we would like to think of this poem as a beautiful good-morning greeting to the people waging it.

Muhammad al-Maghout (1934-2006) was a Syrian poet, playwright, and journalist. Born in the village of Salamiyah in northern Syria, he later moved to Damascus. His political activism led to imprisonment twice in Syria, after which he escaped to Beirut where he joined other pioneers of Arab modernism, publishing his poems in their magazine Shi`r, or Poetry. But he went farther and wrote on what is now called the “prose poem” (see the Introduction). Al-Maghout authored three major poetry books: Sadness under Moonlight, A Room with a Million Walls, and The Red Bedouin, from which the poem “Platonic Love” is taken. He won many literary awards and was married to the poet Saniyya Saleh.

Adel Mahmoud (1946- ) was born in Latakia, Syria. He is a poet, novelist, and journalist and studied journalism and literature at the University of Damascus. He has published widely in different genres, including seven books of poetry and three novels. He remained in Syria during the civil war that started in 2011 and has published a personal diary of his experience of the war.

Widad Nabi (1985- ) was born in Kobani, Syria. She is a Kurdish Syrian poet and currently lives in Berlin, after fleeing her home in 2015 because of the civil war. She studied economics and graduated from the University of Aleppo. She published three poetry books, two in Arabic, A Midday of Love…A Midday of War (2013) and Death As If It Were Junk, and one in German, Kurz Vor dreißig küss mich. Nabi was awarded a writing grant from the Wiesbaden Literaturhaus in 2018.

Saniyya Saleh (1935-1985) was a major Syrian modernist poet, called by one critic “a forgotten star in the space of Arabic poetry.” She was born in the village of Misyaf, Hama Province, Syria. Saleh studied English literature in Beirut and eventually settled there, where she met and married poet Muhammad al-Maghout. Apart from a book of short stories, Dust, she published four books of poems that appeared posthumously in Collected Works, by the Syrian Ministry of Culture in 2006. Saleh won several awards including from Shi’r magazine. She died of a long illness.

Essayed Taha (1991- ) was born in Alexandria, Egypt. He earned a BA in English language and literature at Alexandria University. Taha works as a translator for a number of organizations including a publishing house in Cairo. He has translated H. G. Wells’s novella, Time Machine, to Arabic (Dar Dawen Publisher, Cairo). Alaraby Aljadid published several of Taha’s Arabic poems, from which the selections here were taken. His poems are archived on https://essayedtaha.wordpress.com/.

Mohamed Ali Yousfi (1950- ) is a Tunisian writer, poet, and translator. He studied philosophy and graduated from universities in Syria and Lebanon. His Arabic poetry collections include Edge of the Earth and A Sixth Woman for the Senses. His first novel, The Time for Elves (1992), was awarded the best Arabic novel prize. His second novel, Sun Tiles, won the best Tunisian novel prize in 1997. Yousfi’s poem “One Swallow Is Not Enough” is from his new poetry collection, A Whole Life Followed by a Hut of Wisdom.

The Translators

Zeina Azzam is a Palestinian American writer, poet, editor, educator, and community activist. For 27 years at Georgetown University, she directed an outreach program for K-12 teachers about Arab culture and society. Her poems are or will be published in Pleiades, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Sukoon Magazine, Mizna, Split This Rock, The Fourth River, and the edited volumes Bettering American Poetry, Making Mirrors: Writing/Righting by and for Refugees, and Gaza Unsilenced, among others. Azzam earned an MA in Arabic literature at Georgetown, where she wrote her thesis on Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Sharif S. Elmusa is a Palestinian American scholar, poet, and translator. Apart from academic publications, he co-edited Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry, and authored the poetry collection Flawed Landscape. His poems and essays can be found in numerous periodicals in the United States and internationally. His translations of Arabic poetry have appeared in, among others, Modern Arabic Poetry and The Literature of Modern Arabia (both edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi). Elmusa, who holds a PhD from MIT and is an Emeritus at the American University in Cairo, also taught at Yale University and Georgetown University in Qatar.

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