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

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


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


تتكوَّم قرب بعضها البعض

لتأليف هيكل عظمي يعود من المدرسة كل يوم

ناقصاً قطعة.


Mazen MaaroufMazen Maarouf

Mazen Maarouf was born in Beirut, and currently resides in Reykjavik, Iceland. He has published three collections of poetry:The Camera Doesn’t Capture BirdsOur 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). He has written literary and theatre criticism in various Arabic magazines and newspapers namely An-Naharand Assafir (Lebanon), Al-Quds-el-Arabi (London) and Qantara (Paris); and he has translated numerous Icelandic poets as well as the following novels in 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. 

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 of 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 was raised in Latin America, France, and the Arab world, and educated in the United Kingdom and the United States. Her recent books include the flash collection The Republics, which Patricia Smith lauds as “one of the most inventive books by one of today’s most diverse writers”; The Invisible StarPoet in Andalucía; and Love and Strange Horses, winner of the Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award, which The New York Times says is “a book that trembles with belonging (and longing).” She edited The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award, and named one of the top 10 Feminist Books by The Guardian; and co-editor of W.W. Norton’s Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond, both Academy of American Poets bestsellers. Her plays have been produced at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Bush Theatre, and Westminster Abbey. She is a Lannan Foundation Fellow, winner of the Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature, Honored Finalist for the Gift of Freedom Award, among other honors, and a professor at Columbia University.