the maestro’s bow tie
like an arrow pointing in opposite directions
We did not see the players’ fingers,
but we followed their exit one by one.
We learned that the poets who arrived early
sided with the ney even though
its sadness was genuine and complete,
and that they smoked a lot between pieces.
All that didn’t concern us.
We only wanted to see the black curtain
at the back of the stage.
We were late
and barely caught a glimpse of the academics
as they retrieved their raincoats.
No, in fact, the atmosphere was suffocating
as if you were in military barracks required to recite the national anthem,
but—as you know—it usually rains a lot in foreign movies.
We weren’t sad when the performance ended.
And instead of tossing the rope of melodrama to the opposite shore
we crossed the bridge
and saluted the party-hat seller
who had just returned from the Hussein festival.
I lost them in the middle of a parade of camels
emerging from the Arab League.
When we got together again
we gave some of our cigarettes to a soldier
guarding a building
whose name he did not know.
And at last we arrived at a bar in the city center
with a sense of affability and a few scratches.
We had to sit there for four years so
we read Samir Amin
and attempted to Egyptianize Henry Miller.
As for Kundera, he changed our justifications for infidelity.
There we received
a letter from a friend living in Paris
who told us he’s discovered in himself a person
he has yet to get used to.
Every day he drags his misery
on sidewalks considerably smoother than the Third World’s,
and he’s being destroyed, but in a better way.
We envied him for months
and hoped they would banish us to another capital.
We did not panic when we ran out of money.
One of us had become a Sufi
and after a short prayer
a spring of beer—I swear to God—gushed below our feet.
So we pretended we were drunk
and made our own dictionary. For example:
Danashin* … etc.
No one understood us.
When the oldest among us suggested we become positive,
I was thinking of a way
to transform the public bathrooms into establishments for weeping
and the squares into facilities for urinating.
At that very moment
a well-known intellectual screamed at his friend:
When I’m talking about democracy
you shut your mouth!
So we ran for an hour
and we became calmer on al-Muezz Street
where we met an agitated martyr.
We assured him he is still alive,
and that if he wants, he can still seek divine sustenance,
and besides, there was no battle to begin with.
we were about to affirm our bond
but one of us hid his skull
under a splendid hat.
To them we looked so much like tourists that
a spice peddler followed us
repeating: Winnabi “Stop”
Winnabi “Wait” *
There was nothing left but the Imam’s cemetery.
We sat there for another year
smelling the scent of guava.
And when I decided to leave them
and to walk alone
I had reached thirty.
From Walking As Long As Possible, 1997. Translated by Khaled Mattawa.
*These slang words are, respectively, the equivalent of good, sex, difficult, and money.
*Winnabi means "for the Prophet's sake" and is a common idiomatic phrase that precedes a plea. In the original poem the words "stop" and "wait" appear in English.