When we die
the words we haven’t said yet
turn to bubbles
to inflate the body
and smuggle it from the grave
while the cemetery keeper sleeps.
But we run up against
the stone slab over our bodies,
which refuses to budge.
So we turn
to the insects for help
though we’re not very fond of them;
a worm here,
another there,

and each one gnaws
at one of these words
and leaves nothing
behind— 

nothing
but erasers piling up
to form a skeleton
that comes home from school
each day
with a piece missing.

© Mazen Maarouf. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Nathalie Handal. All rights reserved.

حين نموت

الكلمات التي لم نقلها بعد،

تتحوّل إلى فقاعات،

لنفخ الجسد

وتهريبه خارج الحفرة أثناء نوم حارس المقبرة.

لكن اللوح الحجري فوق جثثنا

يصطدم بنا،

رافضاً أن يزيح

لذا

نستعين بحشرات لا نحبّها في الغالب

دودة من هنا

وأخرى من هناك..

كل حشرة تقضم كلمة

من تلك الكلمات..

مخلِّفة وراءها

لا شيء

لا شيء سوى

محَّايات

تتكوَّم قرب بعضها البعض

لتأليف هيكل عظمي يعود من المدرسة كل يوم

ناقصاً قطعة.

 




Mazen MaaroufMazen Maarouf

Mazen Maarouf is a Palestinian poet and writer, lauded as a rising international literary star. He was raised in Lebanon, and was forced into a double exile in Iceland after criticizing the Syrian regime. He has published three collections of poetry: The Camera Doesn’t Capture Birds, Our Grief Resembles Bread, and most recently An Angel Suspended on the Clothesline, which has been translated into several languages including into French by Samira Negrouche (Amandier Poésie, 2013). His work is currently being translated into English by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Nathalie Handal. Maarouf has read in festivals, universities, museums, and cultural centers in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. He has written literary and theatre criticism in various Arabic magazines and newspapers including An-Nahar and Assafir (Lebanon), Al-Quds-el-Arabi (London) and Qantara (Paris); and he has translated numerous Icelandic poets, as well as the following novels, into Arabic: The Blue Fox by Sjón, Hands of my Father by Myron Uhlberg, The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Snær Magnason, and Dwarfstone by Aðalsteinn Ásberg. He resides in Reykjavik. 

Translated from ArabicArabic by Kareem James Abu-ZeidKareem James Abu-Zeid and by Nathalie HandalNathalie Handal

Half American and half Egyptian by blood, Kareem James Abu-Zeid is an award-winning translator of poets and novelists from across the Arab world. His most recent book-length translations include Najwan Darwish's Nothing More to Lose (New York Review Books), Dunya Mikhail's The Iraqi Nights (New Directions), and Rabee Jaber's The Mehlis Report (New Directions). He has received a Lannan Foundation residency and a Fulbright research fellowship, among other honors, and received Poetry magazine's 2014 translation prize. He is currently writing a book entitled Lighting the Mind: A History of Psychedelic Literature from the Rig Veda to the Present Day, which is doubling as his PhD dissertation at UC Berkeley. He also works as a freelance translator of French and German texts, as well as a freelance editor of English texts. His own interests are moving increasingly in the direction of spirituality and the nature of consciousness: he practices various forms of Buddhist meditation, and spends several weeks each year on silent retreats. 

Nathalie Handal has lived in Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Arab world. She is the author of numerous books, most recently Poet in Andalucía, which Alice Walker lauds as “poems of depth and weight and the sorrowing song of longing and resolve”; Love and Strange Horses, winner of the 2011 Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award, which the New York Times says is “a book that trembles with belonging (and longing)”; and the W.W. Norton landmark anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond. Her most recent plays have been produced at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Bush Theatre and Westminster Abbey, London. Her poetry, stories and literary travel articles have appeared in Vanity FairGuernica Magazine, the Guardianthe Nation, and other publications. Handal is a Lannan Foundation Fellow, winner of the Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature 2011, and Honored Finalist for the Gift of Freedom Award, among other honors.