Poetry Parnassus: Amina (Egypt)

Poetry Parnassus is a project of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, hosted at the Southbank Centre in London. It ran from June 26 to July 1, featuring 145 poets from around the world. Here is the Guardian’s interactive map, where you can click on a country and read its poem. I will be posting them on a semi-regular basis until they’re done.

Amina, by Iman Mersal (Egypt)

You order beer by phone
with the confidence of a woman who knows three languages
and who weaves words into unexpected contexts.

How did you find this sense of security
as if you’d never left your father’s house?
Why does your presence provoke this destructiveness
that is completely free of intent,
this gravity
that releases my senses from their darkness?
What else should I do
when a shared hotel room offers me
a perfect friend
except to lump my unrefined manners and fling them
at her face as a crudeness I have contrived?

Go ahead, amuse yourself.
I am fair.
I’ll let you have more than half the room’s oxygen
on the condition that you see me beyond comparisons,
you who are twenty years older than my mother.
You wear bright colours
and will never grow old.

My perfect friend,
why don’t you leave now.
Perhaps I’ll open the gray wardrobes
and try on your stylish things.

Why don’t you go
and leave me all the room’s oxygen.
The void of your absence may lead me
to bite my lip in despair
as I look at your toothbrush,
familiar… and wet.

• Translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa.

• ‘Amina’ from These Are Not Oranges, My Love (Sheep Meadow Press, NY, 2008).

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