Egyptian poet Ahmad Yamani was one of 39 writers recognized by the Hay Festival in 2009 as one of the “top 39 Arab writers under 40.” Eight years later, we are yet to see a collection of Yamani’s work in English:
However, Youssef Rakha and Robin Moger have worked steadily to rebuild a few poems of Yamani’s in the English. Over at Youssef Rakha’s Cosmopolitan Hotel, Moger has a new translation of Yamani’s “The Scream.”
The circular, seductive, fairy-tale-like poem opens:
My sister screamed in the night
Take me to my brother’s house
And there she screamed that same night
No no! Take me back to the house of my father
They took her back
And when she made to scream again
The night had passed
And the men had gone to work.
The poem, which is terrifyingly visual, is both hopeless and not. The sister screams, she’s shuttled from male guardian to male guardian, and all the while the men are disappearing off to their mysterious and separate world of work. In a brilliant moment at the center of the poem, the sister manages to escape into a liminal space — inside her dreams. There, she is not inside the home of any man, but instead outside, in the street.
Once she is in the street, the sister can do magic:
She came upon a body cast aside
In its breast a hole from which blood ran
She made a paste of spit and dust
And sealed the hole
The body breathed
And rose on bone feet
Kissed her and returned to its place.
After this, the sister’s screams are different. She is not asking to be taken to this man’s house, or that one’s. Instead, she wants to be taken out to the road. Time is still passing relentlessly, and yet there is some hope. This time, men hadn’t already gone to work (والرجال ذهبوا إلى العمل), as before, but were going to work, (يذهبون إلى العمل).
Really, you should just read the whole poem, in Arabic and Moger’s translation, over at Youssef’s hotel. Print it out. Hang it above your desk. Illustrate it. Repeat.
Also read four more poems by Yamani, trans. Youssef Rakha.