Does your blood make the fool drunk?
Do the ignorant dance on your corpse?
Does a hungry child sleep on your forehead?
For the hungry child,
for the dancing ignorant,
for the drunken fool,
this sorrow is mute in witness,
despair brains us with a length of darkness,
and helplessness gets cruel.
Beauty stands and does not step
as blood explodes from its two cheeks,
and the shadow of a cry wanders the maze of sound.
A coward eats the mother’s flesh,
her entrails scattered
in the midst of wolves.
O my heart and my hopelessness,
O cycle of futility where all is null,
O you who are drunk with the burning of blood,
O children homeless upon the earth—
My child, Arabism is still
in Egypt, despite the gore, despite
the gouging, Egypt is love. Is giving.
If Egypt were not my homeland,
I would plant my heart in its soil,
take the path of love like her birds,
become a flower in a garden,
make the perfume of time a necklace,
and weave my faith between her domes.
In this world cramped in agony,
when will we restore the soul of Egypt?
Dear Egypt, dear friends, don’t leave Al Ka’ba
to the idols of rabid money or careless lust.
They’re not long for this world,
and this web of light deserves better
than petty theft. It deserves better.
God sings in us that despite sorrow
we hold to the shrine of the merciful.
O you who are drunk with the burning of blood,
O you who lash this land with your rubber tongue,
There is no good in money without a look in the mirror.
Your Scent Still
Even if you became a night,
a pool of shadows,
I still know your light.
Even if I were lashed
and twirled by khamaseen,
your scent is still my breath.
In every space I am
a wanderer, and my heart sees
no space as home.
There is no solace for
this pain on the shore,
no surge of renewal
as when a mariner
returns to the sea, but I still
adore the light.
We May Meet
Do you think the spring would return
and reanimate March into smoother days?
O unknown lover, we too may break this separation
and make belief of these tears.
If the days sweep us clean, tomorrow we might meet
and the birds will flutter their blue against the sky’s.
Walid and I met as part of an international educational exchange program housed by the College of Saint Rose here in Albany NY, during which Walid regularly visited my high school classroom for about three months to observe, talk, and collaborate. After teaming up for a couple of lessons on political poetry from a variety of countries, we thought it would be fun to collaborate on some translations of contemporary Egyptian poetry, which has received relatively little attention here in the U.S. Walid was particularly drawn to the work of Farouk Goweda, who is a literary giant in the Middle East. It began with one poem, sometime in mid-2014, and now we have nearly enough for a full-length collection
Because I do not speak, read, or write any Arabic, Walid is responsible for the most important step in our translation process: the initial renderings of Goweda’s work into English. Parts of those initial translations need, in my view, very little or no editing or re-casting into poetic American English. I take the parts that do need reworking and edit for simple correctness, clarity, and suggestiveness. Sometimes I move lines around a bit out of their original order to emphasize or re-establish certain images or progressions. I often follow up with Walid on questions about intent, clarity of meanings, allusions, historical figures, cultural symbols, as well as shifts in tone, tense, and perspective. I always send him final drafts for approval.
I take occasional liberties with certain images or colloquialisms, but line and stanza breaks are the most consistent departures from Goweda’s poems; in fact, I do not think any of the poems we’ve published actually follow Goweda’s original lineation or stanza structures. I have approached those features searching only for a combination of line and stanza that both contains and propels the rhythm, power, and image-laden lyricism of Goweda’s work. I am fond of either uniform or alternating stanza lengths, with a small range of syllables per line (5-8 seems to be my preference), but I let lines’ content drive their shaping more than my own formal inclinations, so some poems have had small syllabic ranges, whereas others stretch and sprawl similar to those of Whitman or Ginsberg. Still others have a kind of hybrid syllabic/free verse where the line’s integrity is determined by any combination of image, breath, or music.
In terms of content, Goweda is especially well-known for his political, religious, and love poetry. At times, those lines blur or braid. Part of what has kept me so fascinated with Goweda is how his work is by turns unabashedly romantic, pseudo-surrealist, politically strident, and deeply spiritual, sometimes in the same poem. Of the three poems included here, “Gouge” is clearly the most political, with “Your Scent Still” and “We May Meet” falling neatly into the love category, one thing that binds them—and much of Goweda’s poetry—is a devotion to hope, regardless of circumstance. “[D]espite the gore, despite / the gouging,” his lyric voice serves to witness horror and still say “yes” to beauty, love, and faith.
Walid Abdallah is an Egyptian poet and author whose books include Shout of Silence, Escape to the Realm of Imagination, My Heart-Oasis, and Male Domination and Female Emancipation. He has been a visiting professor of English language and literature in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the United States. His prize-winning co-translations with Andy Fogle of Farouk Goweda’s poetry have previously appeared in Image, RHINO, Reunion: Dallas Review, and Los Angeles Review.
Andy Fogle has six chapbooks of poetry and a full-length called Across from Now (Grayson Books). Other poems, a variety of nonfiction, and co-translations with Walid Abdallah of Egyptian writer Farouk Goweda have appeared in Blackbird, Best New Poets 2018, Gargoyle, Image, Parks and Points, and elsewhere. He was born in Norfolk, grew up in Virginia Beach, and lived for 11 years in the DC area, and now lives in upstate NY, teaching high school and working on a PhD in Education.
Farouk Goweda is a bestselling Egyptian poet, journalist, and playwright whose nearly 50 books have been widely influential in the Middle East for their technique and content. His work has been translated into English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Persian, and he has been awarded several national and international prizes.