‘The Tattoo’ and Other Poems by Muhammad al-Maghut (to Consider on an Election Day)

Poet, essayist, and playwright Muhammad al-Maghut—called one of the revolutionaries of the (Arabic) free verse movement—was born in 1934 in Salamiya, Syria.

According to Robin Yassin-Kassab over at Qunfuz, “Al-Maghut was locked up on several occasions for SSNP [Syrian Social Nationalist Party] membership. During his first imprisonment – in Mezzeh prison in 1955 – he met the influential poet Adonis and started writing poetry himself.”

Al-Maghut has been compared to popular poet Nizar Qabbani, although al-Maghut’s tone and outlook were surely different. According to Lebanese poet Abdo Wazin (trans. Sinan Antoon):

Al-Maghut’s poetic dish was the closest to that dreamy wandering and suffocation and disillusionment with the reigning world. He was, with his sarcastic tone and bleak outlook, the closest to our imagination, poetic memory and to the climate of Arab reality and its aborted dreams.

Rather than “aborted,” I prefer “deferred,” and now—despite everything—the dreams do seem possible. Why else keep fighting? Now, as we “reclaim…courage and strength,” Antoon’s translation of al-Maghut’s “Tattoo,” published on Jadaliyya:



At the third hour of the twentieth century

Where nothing separates the corpses

from pedestrians’ shoes

except asphalt

I will lie down in the middle of the street

like a bedouin sheikh

and will not get up

until all the prison bars and suspects’ files of the world

are gathered and placed before me

so I can chew on them

like a camel on the open road

Until all the batons of the police and protesters

escape from grips

and go back (once again)

budding branches in their forests

In the dark I laugh

I cry

I write

I no longer distinguish my pen from my fingers

Whenever someone knocks or a curtain moves

I hide my papers

like a prostitute during a police raid

From whom did I inherit this fear

and this blood

scared like a mountain leopard?

Keep reading 

More poems by al-Maghut:

The Orphan,” trans. May Jayyusi and John Heath-Stubbs

“Shade and Noon Sun,” translator uncredited

“Shade and the Noon Sun,” with commentary from Duraid Jalili

“From the Doorstep to Heaven,” translator uncredited

“Weeping on a Hunting Trip,” trans. Abdul Kader El Janabi

“The Hill,” trans. Abdul Kader El Janabi

The opening of “When the Words Burn,” from Joy is Not My Profession, trans. John Asfour and Alison Burch

Book-length collections of al-Maghut’s work in translation include Fan of Swords, trans. May Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye and Joy is Not My Profession, trans. John Asfour and Alison Burch

More poetry from محمد الماغوط:

From Adab.Com

From Jehat.Com 

Poets and writers on today’s election:

Gheblawi Ghazi Gheblawi
Our heart is #Egypt and although it’s hurt we fight the pain and wish you all the best on the day of elections, make us proud as always

hadouta Rehab Bassam 
this one goes to you, baby #EgyElections

marwame Marwa Elnaggar 
We have to hope, even if there’s nothing to justify that hope. It has to start somewhere. #EgyElections #Egypt

Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti is also here, and tweets this morning:  ” ببساطة: لا تصوتوا لسياسيٍّ يصبغ شعره” (It’s easy: Just don’t vote for a candidate with dyed hair.) To which candidate @MagyMahrous2011 responds: “Even women? :)”