Three Poems by Sargon Boulus Award-Winning Emad Abu Saleh

This year, reclusive Egyptian poet Emad Abu Saleh won the Sargon Boulus prize. While he has published a number of collections, and is beloved of both poetry readers and critics, relatively little of his work has made its way into translation:

 Editorial Karwán has brought out a translation of Emad Abu Saleh’s acclaimed collection كان نائماً حين قامت الثورة (He was Asleep when the Revolution Came, 2015) in both Spanish (as El Elogio del Error) and Catalan (Elogi de l’error). However, in English, it seems there has been only the publication of two earlier works by the poet in Banipal in 2006, as well as four poems published by ArabLit, in Huda Fakhreddine’s translation.

Salma Harland has generously brought five more of his poems to English; three appear here, and two will be published in the forthcoming DREAMS issue of ArabLit Quarterly.

By Emad Abu Saleh

Translated by Salma Harland


Flour Fever

From A Dog Barking to Kill Time (1996)

They were not sieving,

But dancing to the rhythm.

They would come out of living rooms,

Like angels in white,

Covered in flour dust,

Until their husbands beat them


To being ghosts

In black.

حُمَّى الدقيق

من ديوان «كلب ينبح ليقتل الوقت» 1996

لم يكنَّ ينخلن

كنَّ يرقصن على إيقاع المناخل

ثم يخرجن من حجرات المعيشة

ملائكة بيضاء

بغبار الدقيق

إلى أن يلطمهن الأزواج فجأة

فيعُدن مرة ثانية

.أشباحًافي ملابس سوداء


The Geeze Orchestra Plays for Them

From A Dog Barking to Kill Time (1996)

They have spent their entire lives

In tiny rooms.

They never remember 

To look at the sun

While putting out the laundry to dry on rooftops.

The very few times they would leave the house,

They trip after every step they take

For they have forgotten how to walk

In open spaces.

Their children, crawling around in their tears,

Can only recognise them

Not from their faces

But from their feet.

When they die,

They scold women for wailing

And wash their own dead bodies themselves.

تعزف لهن أوركسترا الإوزات

من ديوان «كلب ينبح ليقتل الوقت» 1996

قضين عمرهن كله

.في الحجرات الضيقة

لم يتذكرن أبدًا

أن ينظرن للشمس

وهن ينشرن الغسيل فوق السطوح.

المرات القليلة التي غادرن فيها المنازل

كن يسقطن بعد كل خطوة

لأنهن نسين المشي

.في مساحات واسعة

أطفالهم الذين يحْبون في دموعهم

يعرفونهن من أرجلهن

.لا وجوههن

حين يمتن

.ينهرن النسوة اللاتي يولولون لأجلهنويُغسَّلنَ جثثهن بأنفسهن


Sometimes She Does Not Remember

How to Swallow Water

From An Old Man Pained by Laughter (1997)


On the pavement,

Half-dissolved in rain water,

Patting cats

That feast on her knees,


With her worn out shoes,

For whichever smiles

That pick their way stealthily

From doorways. 

لا تتذكر أحيانًا

كيف تبلع الماء

من ديوان «عجوز تؤلمه الضحكات» 1997


على الرصيف

نصف مذابة في ماء المطر

تُربت على القطط

التي تتعشى من ركبتيها


،بجزمتها الممزقة


.المتسللة من أبواب المنازل

Emad Abu Saleh’s (b. 1967) first poetry collection Matters Already Decided was published in 1995. His poetic career has thus far been unusual, idiosyncratic, and punctuated by periods of self-imposed silence. His self-publish works are only privately circulated, even after he has established himself as one of the prominent prose poets of his generation. For more see “Poets of the nineties: poetry against poetry.

Salma Harland is an Egyptian-born, UK-based translator and academic researcher. She holds an MA in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Sussex, a PGCert in Translation and Interpreting from the American University in Cairo, and a BA in Translation from October 6 University. She has some published literary translations from and into English and Arabic, including a translation of five selected poems by Sudanese-American poet Safia Elhillo (published in Romman Magazine, 2020).