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First Read: From “Instructions Within” by Ashraf Fayadh

By Mona Kareem & The Operating System

From the cover of “Instructions Within” by Ashraf Fayadh, forthcoming from The Operating System.
Image: Cropping of the cover of Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh (The Operating System, 2016).

The following poems, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, are excerpted from Ashraf Fayadh’s Instructions Within, forthcoming from The Operating System. The bilingual English-Arabic edition is the first in the press’s Glossarium: Unsilenced Texts and Modern Translations series. Curated by publisher Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, the series aims to “recover silenced texts outside and beyond the familiar poetic canon . . . in particular those under siege by restrictive regimes and silencing practices in their home (or adopted) country.” Instructions Within will be accompanied by Ashraf’s artwork (pictured), and all proceeds will support the fight for his release from prison.

Paired Post: An Interview with Mona Kareem

Prayers of Longing

with a leaf of thorns
I comb my hair . . . bringing the curls together,
the way you would bring me together in your arms.


They said a siege was canceled
and that your worn-out hands
are no longer embraced with shackles.
and that I might meet you

[page break]

I don’t know how much time passed . . .
I don’t know
how much . . . passed?

how much waste . . .
and how many silver threads on my head
time had woven

[page break]

pardon me, for your repeated death on my bed
forgive me for forgetting the smell of exhausted sweat
on your bed

There is no lover but you; for I have been in despair

[page break]

Pardon me, forgive me;
for not being able to pump more tears for you
for not mumbling your name in longing and loneliness. 
I direct my face at the warmth of your arms 
I got no lover but you, you alone,
and I’m the first of your seekers. 

A Heart of a Different Shape

Artwork by Ashraf Fayadh.Ring the bell
Dust off your winter of that sad song
the recording repeats itself and the recorder does not feel
the cold!
“My Funny Valentine” returns
the heart-wounded saint is singing
singing and praying
that God would protect us . . . of all harm
God loves us, God afflicts us, troubles us, tries us,
punishes us and sometimes he pardons us.
May he pardon me . . . and all women
and all lovers!

[page break]

They said in the old days, not the very old days though,
that love takes the shape of the heart it is poured into
love is an evaporating liquid!
love is a freezing liquid!
love has a boiling point!
and the heart was created as a container
like a semi-perimeter . . . or in whatever shape lovers have imagined it
But my heart is not a triangle nor a semi-perimeter
my heart is liquid
that takes the shape of love and hallucination,
the shape of fear poured into it
my heart does not boil . . . nor is it afflicted with bad weather
my heart is liquid only when necessary!
“My funny valentine” returns to bless my solitude
for my heart is liquid when it wishes to . . .
usually poured into a holed container!

[page break]

Here you are.. once again containing my fluid heart,
leaking down from your holed container.
Here is my poured heart . . . waiting for the sunrise to evaporate!
“My happy valentine” always comes in winter
when no sun is enough to evaporate my heart.
Let it freeze then . . . until spring!
or you can even use a heater
to keep its liquidity . . . and wet your feet!

[page break]

did I arrive at the right time?
to be poured into your holed container this year?
it would be a joy to take your shape, even for seconds.
it would be a joy if your heart runs in my veins for a bit
granting you the spell, which had initially poured me into you.
“My happy valentine” is very long
very boring and very lonely like me.
lonely again . . . as usual!
very lonely . . . like the one before. 

Read an interview with Mona Kareem on translating Ashraf Fayadh’s poetry.

Published Aug 11, 2016   Copyright 2016 Mona Kareem & The Operating System

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