KHALED MATTAWA  |  Translating Iman Mersal


I face the mirror to scrub off
the scent that two lips left on my neck.
And though there is no need to document the sadness,
I still indulge in counting tears
by examining the paper tissues I threw in the wastebasket.
I think my eyes are prettier than the image I have of them
and decide that understanding is more beautiful than forgiveness.
I was with you
on a journey to a holy place.
I am wearing a dress of a sixteenth-century French princess
when you take me away from the convent.
You push me to climb a staircase hanging in air.
And since this is impossible with all those spangles,
I begin taking off petticoats
and climb,
belts shaped like bows
that turn into dead butterflies when I release them,
and climb.


On the highest step
I am naked under a light mist.
I lose you
and wake in another bed.

To believe that there is always something greater
than propriety,
I examine my skin
on which no imprint of the past remains—
I see I am getting thinner
as if  preparing myself
to fly.


I don’t think it was on the rural road that passes by my family home
or the street filled with the cafés of the elite
in the middle of the capital . . .

The fires subsided before I woke up.

There are no corpses.
They must have disintegrated with the old pictures and cups
along with the closed, half-closed, and open windows.

You stand before me in your clothes, clean to the point of cruelty.
I smell you
and realize that the feet that trampled the earth
did not deprive you of your own scent.

You offer me a basket of oranges
with the smile of a sailor who had just docked.
I remind you that I do not like them:

—These are not oranges, my love.

I think the world has ended
and our teeth can no longer chew on such hard things.
So we begin to use the oranges as pool balls.
Cosmic rubble
can be remade into a cue,
and a table with a smooth top
and six pockets
with equal distances between them.


Laid out in a casket too wide for my body . . .
the flowers they fling at me
do not compel my nails to scratch my skin raw.

My friends’ pores are open to writing new poems
about the freedom of dying without warning,
and about the relief that fills us
when learning that someone
we did not have time to love
has died.

You stand by my feet.
I do not recall any association between you and them.
You are still taller than I
and that can be enough to renew my grudge.

Apparently, they have stuffed what’s between my thighs with white cotton,
and this reveals the classic error
of limiting our fears to castration anxiety.

I caught you once at the height of ecstasy
while I watched my own heart beat
and ran toward the opposite sidewalk.

The desire I failed to conjure up
explodes now in a blind spot.

For you
I sweep neutrality off my face
and dab on some lust with a little touch-up.

The casket is wide enough for us both.
I doubt your sadness.
You are still standing on your feet,
and I, sadly enough, have no plans
to die before you.