Poetry in Translation: Nada Elshabrawy’s ‘In a Bad Movie’

This poem, by poet, publisher, and prominent booktuber Nada Elshabrawy, first appeared in the Winter 2020 DREAMS issue of ArabLit Quarterly. We re-run it here for Women in Translation Momth (#WiTMonth):

In a Bad Movie

By Nada Elshabrawy

Translated by Salma Hesham

We walk the streets shoulder to shoulder 

bumping into plastic mannequins
they break
but we shatter

and no one knows how to collect the fragments 

and the problem is not the remains
the problem is the dreams, incomplete
parts of which cannot become whole again 

and this is the worst part of the story:

who is lost now?
or just my feelings
and all the things I adored
and all the feelings of extreme happiness:

who is lost now? 

or the contacts on my phone?
do we both still exist
but we’re not like ourselves anymore?
as if the rain had washed a part of us away 

inhale and exhale, slowly
inhale, and don’t exhale
all the doctors prescribe the same drug
and I am determined to neither taste nor try it 

but still I walk the streets hand-in-hand with the air 

writing poems and showing them to no one
save the empty seats on the bus
and the black tar on the streets 

I talk about January, winter, and cold 

about people who need to talk
more than they need songs and roses,
about the wide expanse with a dead end 

and those who left the remains
of their unfinished stories near the pavement
on the ground

about wrinkles on feelings
rather than wrinkles on faces

and sometimes—well, occasionally—
I show my poems to a few friends
who can tolerate my hallucinations
and who can listen, even to my silence, and don’t complain 

much about how I leave bits and pieces of myself
between the lines, or lose myself in the poem
and write rhyming words in my mind
and when I try to capture them on paper
they disappear!

People see me as an exception 

and don’t like to get too close

—that’s why I master leaving spaces—
for me, people are background actors in a bad movie 

that no one cared to watch, so it failed
and was soon replaced 

and so, the scales are fair
not doing an injustice to either of us

they ask the same questions, out of curiosity 

and I give the same answers, out of laziness

this is the whole story
life goes on, and still it tries to crush me
but I walk, indifferent to its existence 

listening to songs that keep me company
and warm me in the embrace of the oud

Now I laugh and don’t care about a thing

I always walk the streets shoulder to shoulder 

and when I shatter now
I don’t bother to collect the remains

this is what happens every day
but the thing I forgot to say
and that annoys me
is that this poem kept me awake
—although I was starting to doze off—
and here I am, finishing it
but sleep will not come 


Nada El Shabrawy is a poet and youtuber living between Paris and Cairo. Born in 1995 in Almahalla Alkubra, she graduated with a law degree from Mansoura University and later moved to Cairo to concentrate on creative writing and publishing. She currently works in the book industry, and her influential youtube channel about books, Dodet Kotob, has more than 100,000 subscribers. In early 2019, she debuted a podcast on international women writers, and in November of the same year, the second season on famous fictional characters was released. Her first poetry collection came out in Arabic in 2020, and she is currently at work on her second.  

Salma Hesham is a freelance translator and short-story writer. She was born in Egypt in 1986 and studied English language and literature at the Arab Open University, and earned two professional translation certificates from the American University in Cairo. She has worked as a freelance editor, translator, and culture reporter at a number of online and print newspapers. Her first book was a collection of short stories titled The Room of Changing Feelings (2017).