‘A Letter in My Purse’: From Slain Poet Shaimaa El-Sabbagh

Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, the activist who was shot dead at a rally in Tahrir Square yesterday, was also a poet:

A letter in my purse

By Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, trans. Maged Zaher
I am not sure
Truly, she was nothing more than just a purse
But when lost, there was a problem
How to face the world without her
Because the streets remember us together
The shops know her more than me
Because she is the one who pays
She knows the smell of my sweat and she loves it
She knows the different buses
And has her own relationship with their drivers
She memorizes the ticket price
And always has the exact change
Once I bought a perfume she didn’t like
She spilled all of it and refused to let me use it
By the way
She also loves my family
And she always carried a picture
Of each one she loves

What might she be feeling right now
Maybe scared?
Or disgusted from the sweat of someone she doesn’t know
Annoyed by the new streets?
If she stopped by one of the stores we visited together
Would she like the same items?
Anyway, she has the house keys
And I am waiting for her

Maged Zaher is a 2013 “Genius” award winner who both writes and translates poetry. His most recent collection is Thank You for the Window Officeand his most recent translation The Tahrir of Poems.


  1. Thank you for printing this poem. I can’t imagine how her family must be feeling. Reblogged this too.

  2. Reblogged this on Choose Ukraine and commented:
    RIP to all the young talented people we seem to lose each day. Are the best ones leaving soonest?

  3. After my friend sent to me a headline of her shooting my heart sank. Wasn’t this a peaceful protest, moments of silence, and remembrance? She, who I did not know personally, should not be dead because of peace…along with many others. It is however a bittersweet warming to know She was a poet, most likely one of gentle truthful words of wisdom.
    May She rest in a better peace than, some times this world can offer.


  4. Oh my gosh. May she rest in peace. The poem is beautiful.

  5. We are all diminished when a poet passes. I did not know her, nor her circumstances but this does not prevent me from passing through grief at this news.

  6. This poem is beautiful. It is beautiful because it personifies the purse that is now with someone else, a stranger emitting a new and unwelcome sweat. She wrote this before she was killed, in anticipation, foretelling. “Anyway, she has the house keys/And I am waiting for her.” This is unspeakable sadness. Why do things have to end this way? Why do governments have this perception of self that they have the right to exist over the life of someone else? This is where they go wrong. When beauty of this kind is smitten, the memories do not die, they become solidified in our minds, at least those of us, who are emboldened by the suffocation of real life, for our hearts can only live in the real, which is inside the thinking mind.

    I once told an economist that the strength of the stock market was dependent by 3/4s on consumer confidence. Sartre spoke of the coming together of the French to the Bastille when they did not have cellphones. You cannot kill all of us. And yes, we will have to sacrifice ourselves. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but much of the world is unrealized, and so it takes time. The pressure builds up on the other side of a wall and it topples simply because there is too much weight on one side. Economic inequality will face the same music. The 1% is too small a number to fight against the 99.

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