New work online this month: by Youssef Rakha, Rana el-Tonsi, and Malaka Badr:
Youssef Rakha, “The Boy Jihadi,” in Guernica.
Rakha’s writing often circles around what it means to be a (male) Muslim in our era(s). In both his English and Arabic works, it’s often the language that tangles up the reader and pulls her along, although this story is less about verbal pyrotechnics and more about a satiric sleight of hand. Without revealing the sleight of hand:
“Long before the arrival of the boy jihadi, we had all individually fantasized about hunting down a religious fanatic to defend the nation. We would engage them in mortal combat and emerge triumphant, handing over the corpse to someone like yourself, General, Sir, and be named an honorary brigadier or something. For a year or more before the six months that we spent preoccupied with our strange visitor, counterterrorism was our spiritual life.
“Somehow that never stopped us from practicing the religion we shared with him, though it cast him and other committed practitioners of that religion in the role of the enemy. We felt no contradiction. One of us would be warning the other against the insidious ratsbane of extremism even as he admonished him for missing the lastsalat at the mosque. Fanaticism was one thing, but no one could afford to be lax about doing the homework assigned to them by Allah, could they now. ” Read the whole story.>>
Rana el-Tonsi’s The Book of Games, trans. Robin Moger.
These new poems by el-Tonsi, in translation by Moger, have nothing (nothing?) to do with contemporary politics; instead, they are a sweet, painful, hopeful-hopeless portrait of the mother-child relationship that could be from anywhere.
When I gave birth to you
the moment was no miracle:
I was degraded,
sunk in pain.
The strangers were haunting my bones
and I loved you,
the love of a woman saved from death,
waking that she might love.
Seven Poems by Malaka Badr, trans. Robin Moger.
Badr’s new poems, in Moger’s translation, have a wonderful-angry lightness of touch when exploring death, Cairo, relationships, desire, decay; you’d want to spend endless time at a party with this voice, while insha’allah slightly buzzed.
I have rage enough to burn the city
and murder its inhabitants
individually, each a different way,
with blithe delight unspoiled by guilt.
to make me wish harm even
on bothersome kids,
the elderly, the living dead,
and the embittered, determined to preach their message.
to rip paving stones from the sidewalks
and kick cats in their bellies
and pop the spots on my neighbour’s face
and smash the streetlamps,
the ones that never light up when you need them.