Blackbird an online journal of literature and the arts Spring 2008 Vol. 7 No. 1


KHALED MATTAWA  |  Translating Iman Mersal

The Visit

While climbing stairs
breathing must be regulated.
A short pause in the middle is required.
As for descending
it is enough to follow the banister
to avoid falling.
And when going out it is better
to keep one’s head raised
and not look around.

The person behind the door
must open it quickly
before the one standing outside wonders
what defeated will
brought her here.

Time usually disappears
at the moment of crossing the threshold.

At first the hall seems
darker or wider than we imagined.
Is there a painting so one may ask who painted it?
The eyes have to find something
to help them feign surprise.


A camphor tree is cut with a shining ax,
then a year at least . . . in the sun.
Shelves are nailed to the wall.
Books and knickknacks are placed on them
to give some people
places that suit their dreams
and that protect some intellectuals from boll weevils.
But most important
is to fill the first few minutes with attempts at conversation
about mutual interests.

Can I change my place, please?

With eyes wide open we walk toward disaster.
There is no confusion.
With the power of fear alone
we pluck the thorn that pricks our friendship,
cemented by translated novels
and the availability of esthetic reasons for infidelity.


We will plan a safe coincidence,
and convince ourselves
that our clothes were stripped off us by mysterious winds
and that the body
is only an attempt
to fulfill an old desire for connection.
We will plan a coincidence
assuring ourselves that guilt is an invention of conformists.

We will not celebrate
relaxed like murderers
who return to the crime scene
and do not feel compelled to say a word to anyone.

—I will give you what my wife failed to know about me.

—I will not grant you
   what I failed to offer him.


He is surprised by how thin she is
so he talks about the transparency of her skin,
and how the hidden kindness under her shoulders
is a modern expression of femininity.

She assigns her vocal cords the task of hallucination
for she had mistaken the harvest
for those green plants
after they wilted.

“Hooked to the dialysis machine
for six hours—
the patients around me nailed
to their beds, stranded
without resentment—
I try to find a way to know you
other than swapping thoughts and memories.

Twice a week
I come out cleansed by the dialysis machine.

Without the nausea caused by the urea,
I smoke with greater pleasure.”


Have you read Justine?
Don’t worry . . . you’re my sister
and we won’t lose beyond our natural tolerance
for loss.

He draws the curtains
blocking the light from the house opposite.
The darkness is complete and quintessential.
The darkness is final and guaranteed.

I press my fingers to my head
as if about to scream at people far away.

One day I will confess everything to them
in a tense voice matching a danger worthy of pride.
It will be wonderful
to widen my friends’ emotional arteries—
constricted by chronic safety—
with details that I wish had happened.

I will not tell anyone
that I hid from you the old scar on my knee,
the scar
my lover used to kiss
before his ritual of weeping.

Your balcony is attached to your neighbors’
and your kitchen utensils never collect dust.
I did not intend to know your house this way.

The wife
now gathers clothes from the clothesline
and steps on the flowers in the rug.
Perhaps the flowers are still wet
with the scent of two bodies that had little time
and so obtained pleasure from the terror rising inside them.  

   Contributor’s notes  |  Khaled Mattawa
   Contributor’s notes  |  Iman Mersal
|   A translation of Iman Mersal
The Room Is Cluttered, the Suitcase Night Thunder  
|  A poem by Khaled Mattawa  

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