Three Poems from ‘Jours Tranquilles au Caire’

Isabelle Mayault’s debut, Jours Tranquilles au Caire, launched this spring, and is currently on sale in Cairo in French, with an Arabic translation in the works:

B-xFFUrUEAAEtRdThe book, she says, is a collection of chronicles — both nonfiction and poetry — about the 2012-2014 period in Cairo.

Jours Tranquilles was released by Paris-based Riveneuve publishing house, and “these first-person chronicles describe what the daily life looks like in a city that is far from being quiet,” Mayault said over email. “The name is inspired by the French translated title of Henry Miller’s book, Jours Tranquilles à Clichy. I feel compelled to add that, nothing, however, compares with Miller’s novel in terms of débauche!”

Jours Tranquilles au Caire is set between March 2012 and June 2014, “roughly from elections to elections. In it, I mix on the ground stories (what it is to be working as a freelance journalist in this particular context) with more personal stories and also poems.” In between the chronicles, Mayault writes, there are “news agency dispatches look-alikes, meant to provide more detailed info and a chronological trail to the readers – it felt particularly helpful given the density of the news during those years.”

ere, she shares three poems from Jours Tranquilles au Caire, translated into the English by the author.

Cairo is a fiction

Like in Roberto Bolaño’s Mexico, women are raped and beaten
Like in a Coen Brothers’ movie, naked men are found in the desert
Like in Victor Hugo’s alexandrines, cities secede
Like in a certain Beckett play, unifiers never make it on time
Like in Dirty Harry, men in uniforms shoot in broad daylight on men without uniform
Like in Kusturica’s world, guns are pointed at the sky with much laughter
Like in Italo Calvino’s tale, in Cairo, we live as high as the trees

Curfew chronicles n°3 

Some have seen dead bodies covered with ice blocks. Some have heard bullets whistle on the corniche. Some don’t know how to distinguish tear gas shots from regular gun shots. Some buy gin. Some bake pies. Some are afraid to be repatriated. Some have already been forced to leave the country. Some have seen carts from their balconies carrying dead men under white sheets. Some don’t go to work. Some feel the need to speak profusely. Some smoke in front of a building where everybody watches television. Some go back home on foot several hours after the curfew started. Some sleep together in a bedroom to soften the fear. Some don’t turn the lights off. Some wait for dawn to finally close their eyes. Some think that the week has been as long as a month. Some go down to the coffeeshop at midnight just for the sake of bumping into strangers. Some dance barefoot in the living room. Some perspire while listening to the radio in the kitchen. Some check the time more often than they usually do. Some have worried mothers, some, stoic mothers. Some watch the world crumble, their heads held high. Some discover that one can cry for political reasons.

Curfew chronicles n°6

August in Cairo is like Vivaldi’s summer : slow and unleashed.
It smells like washing powder and ash.

Its green leaves dare not redden for,
All year, they remain covered with Sinai’s dust

Which is both comforting and toxic
Like a spell – although, a good one

From Moqattam, we stare at the sun being devoured by carbon
From a roof, parables colonizing the horizon,
Like a discreet shadow army

Empty bottles from all the water gulped roll sluggishly on the terrace
Jasmine flowers look toasted like brown bread, despite meticulous care

All the way up the hill, where aperitivo has started on London time,
Rumor has it that the curfew will be postponed until one hour before midnight.

Like in a fairy tale or a middle-school odyssey,
We cross town in a pink and square coach

The city doesn’t know for the curfew
Its inhabitants sunk behind thick walls

Its buildings swallowed by the void.


    1. All thanks to Isabelle!

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