‘I Need an Abacus with Coloured Beads…’: A New Poem from Syria

Fawaz Azem, who earlier shared his translation of poems by Dima Yousf and Nihad Sayed Issa, has now translated a new work by the Syrian writer Derar Soltan Kurdieh, “My Fingers Are Not Enough.” 

abacusAzem writes:

Born in 1971 in the town of Salamiyyeh in the province of Hama, Syria, Derar Soltan Kurdieh has spent most of his life in Damascus. He graduated from the Damascus University School of Business and Economics, and currently works as an auditor and financial analyst, tutors children and students with special needs in math, manages a civil society relief organization that caters to those displaced from devastated areas, and is pursuing a law degree. He has a collection of short stories, ready for publication, in which five Damascus-based publishing houses have already expressed an interest, but has not been published for failing to receive “security clearance.”


My Fingers Are Not Enough

I need an abacus with coloured beads like those we used to have when we were little, as my fingers and memory are not enough for all these numbers that go to sleep and wake up with me to accompany me all the time, like a shadow of disappointment.

I need an abacus with coloured beads to count every day.

-Forty three years of disappointment and loss have passed with all their weight, like a bulldozer, over our faces, our lives and our memory.

-Eight stray bullets, a mortar shell and an unidentified corpse like a gratuitous ad for the beginning of a new night in the alleys of our neighbourhood, teeming with fear and strange faces.

-Seven naked heavens stretching lazily and with unmatched coyness in full view of the crowds lined up begging for a loving look.

-Five recent wrinkles growing on my face which I spread, enraged, like a peddler of used clothing, for the passersby to rummage through, while none of them thinks of buying it even as a mop.

-Three nightmares that cling to my fever-ridden body, like a lover who has fled her marital home which is as boring as this country.

-Twenty disappointments and a disappointment for the faces of departed friends whose names and phone numbers still nibble on my heart and memory like the locust.

-Four white clouds hastening to land like sparrows, and peck at the black woollen scarf on the laundry line in my mother’s garden.

-Two dimples and nine moles on her face, more appetizing than a loaf of bread, one birth mark, shaped like an almond, near her navel, ten fingers and two burning lips, slumbering on the edge of the pavements of fatigue.

I need an abacus with beads coloured in those colours that fall from God’s cloak, which the neighbourhood children point at with their little fingers, whittled like pencils, after every sunshine and rain, crying out “A rainbow!!” so that I can begin this never-ending count. —


Fawaz Azem served for 26 yrs in the UN Arabic Language Services, first in the Arabic Translation Service, 1976-1982, and the remaining years in the Arabic Interpretation Section, 1982-2002. Since then, he’s been working as a free-lance Arabic interpreter and translator with the UN and private entities. He is based in New York.