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Poetry

Amina

By Iman Mersal
Translated from Arabic by Khaled Mattawa
A poem about friendship from one of Egypt's most prominent women poets.

You order beer by phone
with the confidence of a woman who knows three languages
and who weaves words toward unexpected contexts.
How did you find this security
as if you had 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 vulgarity I have fashioned?

Go ahead, amuse yourself.
I am fair.
I will let you have more than half the oxygen in the room
on the condition that you see me without comparisons,
you who are twenty years older than my mother.
You wear cheerful colors
and you will never grow old.

My perfect friend,
why don’t you leave now.
Perhaps I will 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 regret
as I look at your toothbrush,
familiar . . . and wet.


For the next poem in this sequence, click here.

Read Context Explore Teaching Ideas

You order beer by phone
with the confidence of a woman who knows three languages
and who weaves words toward unexpected contexts.
How did you find this security
as if you had 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 vulgarity I have fashioned?

Go ahead, amuse yourself.
I am fair.
I will let you have more than half the oxygen in the room
on the condition that you see me without comparisons,
you who are twenty years older than my mother.
You wear cheerful colors
and you will never grow old.

My perfect friend,
why don’t you leave now.
Perhaps I will 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 regret
as I look at your toothbrush,
familiar . . . and wet.


For the next poem in this sequence, click here.

Meet Iman Mersal

Watch Iman Mersal read “Amina” in Arabic (on Youtube.)

Then, read an interview from Poetry Parnassus in which Iman Mersal explains why she stopped writing for five years after leaving Egypt, and says that “a community of poets will be the most dysfunctional community one can imagine.”  

Meet Translator Khaled Mattawa

Watch Khaled Mattawa explain why translation is “ingrained in [his] sense of identity.”

(Watch the video on Youtube.)

Hear the Names

Listen to pronunciations of the Egyptian Arabic terms in this story, read aloud by Noor Naga.

(Listen on SoundCloud.)

Get Background on Egypt
A black, red, and white mural reading "Freedom Egypt"

Mural, Egypt, 2013, photographed by stttijn. License: CC-BY 2.0.

To learn more about Egypt’s history, read the BBC’s timeline of key events from 7000 BCE to 2018.

For the latest news from Egypt, visit the newspaper The Egypt Independent.

More from Iman Mersal

A portrait of Egyptian writer Iman Mersal

Read “Things Elude Me,” and “Sometimes Wisdom Possesses Me,” and other poems by Iman Mersal. 

Visit Iman Mersal’s blog to find more poems.

More from Translator Khaled Mattawa

Watch translator Khaled Mattawa talk about his work (on Youtube.)

Then, read about and find more translations by Khaled Mattawa on the Poetry Foundation website.

Leaving Father's House

In this poem, the narrator asks a female friend, 

How did you find this security
as if you had never left your father’s house?

What is it like for a woman in Egypt to leave her father’s house? For some of the answers, watch a twenty-minute New York Times documentary about a young woman hoping to share an apartment with her friends.  

More Powerful Egyptian Women

Find out the story of the young Egyptian rapper Myam Mahmoud, who raps in one of her songs, “Who says femininity is about dresses? Femininity is about intelligence and intellect.”


(Listen to her songs on SoundCloud.)

Then, watch Four Women of Egypt, a documentary film about four friends (on Youtube.)

Finally, connect to other work by Egypt’s (Revolutionary) Women Writers

Egyptian Women Artists
Influences on Iman Mersal

Charles Baudelaire, 1844. By Emile Deroy. Public Domain.

Arabic prose poems were originally inspired by French ones. Read a poem about a former home by Charles Baudelaire: “A Former Life.” Then, read other prose poems from Baudelaire’s collectionParis Spleen. Want more? Read the entire book.

Looking for other modern poets influenced by Baudelaire? Try the Iranian Forugh Farrokhzad

Learn about and read works of other prose poets who were influences for Mersal: Sargon Boulus, Salah Faik, and Adonis.

More Prose Poetry

Read prose poems from Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika, another famous innovator of this form, who spent the last years of her life in Cairo. (This site also sets the poems to instrumental music.)  

1. Launching the Poem: Writing About Friendship
2. Complex Friendships
3. Poems on Film
4. Qasidat Al-Nathr (Prose Poems)
To access these Teaching Ideas, please register or login to WWB-Campus.
English

You order beer by phone
with the confidence of a woman who knows three languages
and who weaves words toward unexpected contexts.
How did you find this security
as if you had 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 vulgarity I have fashioned?

Go ahead, amuse yourself.
I am fair.
I will let you have more than half the oxygen in the room
on the condition that you see me without comparisons,
you who are twenty years older than my mother.
You wear cheerful colors
and you will never grow old.

My perfect friend,
why don’t you leave now.
Perhaps I will 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 regret
as I look at your toothbrush,
familiar . . . and wet.


For the next poem in this sequence, click here.

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