Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Poem by Iman Mersal


One day I will pass in front of the house
that was mine for years
and try not to measure how far it is from my friends’ homes.

The plump widow whose cries for love woke me
is no longer my neighbor.

I will invent things so not to get confused.
Count my steps,
or bite my lower lip delighting in the slight pain,
or keep my fingers busy with tearing a whole packet
of paper tissues.

I will not try short cuts
to avoid the pain.
I will not stop myself from loitering
as I train my teeth to chew on hate
that leaps from within.
And to forgive
the cold hands that pushed me toward it,
I will remember
that I did not smudge the bathroom’s whiteness
with my own darkness.

No doubt, things elude me.
The wall itself did not enter my dreams.
I did not imagine a color of paint
to match the scene’s tragic lighting.

This house was my home for years.
It wasn’t a student hostel
where I would leave an evening gown
on a nail behind the door
or paste old pictures with temporary glue.
The romantic sentences
I extracted from Love in the Time of Cholera
must be jumbled up now
making an altogether comic text.

Translated by: Khaled Mattawa

Iman Mersal was born in 1966 in a small village in Egypt in the Delta. A graduate of Mansura University, she was co-editor from 1985 to 1988 of the independent feminist magazine, Bint al-Ard (Daughter of the Earth). Following her first book of poetry, a collection of measured verse, she switched to the avant-garde genre called qasidat al-nathr (prose poem), aligning herself with the "new generation" of poets who found the genre more suitable for describing the details of daily life. Her second book, A Dark Passageway is Suitable for Learning to Dance, was selected as the best book of poetry in 1995 by polls conducted by a number of Egyptian magazines and newspapers. She currently teaches Arabic language and literature at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. A collection of her poems is forthcoming from Sheepmeadow Press in 2008.

On a more personal note, I was fortunate to be part of a wonderful writing group of which Iman was also a member. Whenever she brought poems in translation to the group they took my breath quite away. She has agreed to do an interview with me for this space so look for that posting in the near future. In the meantime, I'd like to direct you to a couple of places online where you can read about her and also read her work: Words Without Borders has a decent selection of poems in translation, Arab World Books has an in-depth biography, and Poetry International Web has posted a series of diaries that poets kept during the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in 2003. Her thoughts on giving a poetry reading strike me as quite unique, and as in all the works I've read by Iman, there is a fearless streak that runs throughout.