The Annual Anti-Valentine’s Day Poem: ‘The Wall of Lost Chances’

Arabic literature has plenty to offer the (classically) romantic-minded reader. But each year, Thoraya El-Rayyes and ArabLit pull together literature that’s not meant for greeting cards. This year, from Ahmad Taha’s Empire of Walls:

The wall of lost chances

By Ahmed Taha, translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes


ahmedtahaWithout a care

you push your black hair

behind you

and set my dreams free.

By what right do you

jail them by night beneath your bed

while you, awake,

await their death?

I’ve nothing to tell you


my past

to put you

to sleep

and unfurl your dreams.

All I remember is

I was born like this,

a wolf inept even at howling

yet always dreaming

of prey.

A General begging for victories

at the edges of cafes –

on his chest, medals jostling

like a flock of ants.

Perhaps I was

an august General

when I shot my bullets at your chest.

And perhaps

a professional burglar

when I thought of what was under your shorts.

But I want a bona fide medal,

formidable battles

that could go on for years,

enough to kill all the Generals

and raze all the cities

and defeat all the warriors

but me.

But that sagging house,

on whose walls hang

your underwear,

in whose corners lie

your thick-heeled shoes.

And then

my hands will knead this until it is

like a plug,

will pound it on an abandoned pavement,

until it is a medal.

And I will raise the sheet

that covers your bed

so it becomes a flag.

And then

put the medal on my chest,

the flag under my head,

and sleep.


From Ahmad Taha’s poetry collection Empire of Walls, in which each poem forms one wall.

thorayyacolorAhmed Taha is an Egyptian poet who has published four collections of poetry. Since the 1970s, he has played an active role in Egyptian literary life having founded and co-founded several literary magazines and groups including Aswat (Voices), al-Kitaba al-Sawda’ (Black Writing) and al-Garad (Locusts). Despite this, he remains little known outside the Arab world. He lives in Cairo, Egypt.

Thoraya El-Rayyes is a Palestinian-Canadian literary translator who specializes in bringing Arabic literature from the Levant into English. Her translations have received accolades from the Modern Language Association and the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas. She lives in Amman, Jordan.

Previous anti-Valentine’s Day lit:

Yehia Jaber’s ‘How I Became a Suicide Bomber’

Basma Nsour’s ‘That Pathetic Woman’