‘Blank Bullets’: 2 Poems by Manahel Alsahoui

The two poems below — our last for Women in Translation Month — are from Manahel Alsahoui’s collection Thirty Minutes in a Booby-Trapped Bus, translated to English by Sawad Hussain:

Manahel Alsahoui is a Syrian poet and journalist who studied French literature at Damascus University. Thirty Minutes in a Booby-Trapped Bus is her first solo collection of poetry; poems of hers from other anthologies have been translated into German, Turkish, and Japanese. In 2018, she won third place for the Sharjah Prize for Arab Creativity for one of her plays.

Bed of blank bullets

Dozens of soldiers will love me now

They will shove me onto a bed of blank bullets

The dozens know that legs open after a battle

Bodies that haven’t tasted love

And that a woman soaked with the sweat of fighters,

Opens her hand to a hot bullet

Yelling at them to flee

The dozens are kneeling now

Hands behind their backs


The bed is wide…

I calmly stretch out

Dozens of soldiers will love me

Squeezing me so their blood doesn’t flow

And the soil knows that in ruins is a woman…



European women

On the narrow bed, I sprawl out forlorn

I turn my face to the wall

I smile.

With my finger, I trace your name on the wall

I shut my eyes to the sound of a far-off explosion

I can now sleep without dreaming of anything

Without waiting for something…

I know that so many like you

Went to Europe

Went because of humiliation and death.

But, years on

When your children will ask why you came

You will say:

Because the bodies of European women are warmer,

Warmer than our women who died alone over there.

Sawad Hussain is is an Arabic translator and litterateur who holds a MA in Modern Arabic Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Some of her recent translations include Saud Alsanoussi’s Mama Hissa’s Mice and a co-translation of Fatima Sharafeddine and Samar Mahfouz Barraj’s Ghady & Rawan. She is passionate about all things related to Arab culture, history, and literature. 

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