New Poetry: Three Poems by Rana al-Tonsi

These poems appear in Egyptian Rana al-Tonsi’s forthcoming collection “الناقص” (“Incomplete”).

Translated by Sara Elkamel

Final Barrenness 


The sky doesn’t draw its drapes

As the first long, desolate night descends

We are third-class patients

Or, the less vulnerable

We are the victims of wisdom

The moment the window opens

And the air pushes its way through

Without appropriate exhalation

We know now

What the years have done to us

The bed that has been vacant for years

Of all the dead bodies and martyrs

Must finally be left barren

So it may stand tall

And watch its soul infinitely fall

Over strange arms.

All I smell

Is the stench of an iron

Abandoned on run down clothes

Until they caught fire

And a wet circle

And white teeth

Undoubtedly unsmiling

And dreams that die

When there are no longer balconies to leave from

And I have been writing poems for a while

I don’t exactly know

If this is my pain, or theirs.

But I Always Lose

Through one of the runaway doors

That’s where I found myself


A fairy is dragging me from one light to the next

And nothing escorts me

But laughter


We are incomplete fragments

Gestures hiding behind one another

The fragments of uncertainty


In absence


I brought the eyes home

The glances towards deprivation

I caught sight of no one


I am full of fractures

What scares me is that I’m trembling


Superheroes alone

Accomplish everything

The normal way


All women who commit suicide look alike

All women who haven’t committed suicide look alike

Someone has opened a window

To bring a large stack of colored paper into the house


The circus is in my wallet

The animals dance in the night

Laugh without a sound

They have no idea how to hide in a circus


The fighting in my head is never-ending

A phone is ringing


The world’s new discoveries

Pain, solitude and despair


You will sleep in my arms

And you will come out of my body as a sparrow


Is there a way to contact heaven?

I wage wars against myself

And I always lose


There are others who inhabit this heart just as I do;

I love them eternally.

And there are madmen on bikes I mistook for magical

whom this journey did not seize;

my luck failed to thrust me between them.

And there is you,

perched on the maps of the world

lighting a fire

speaking to me of loneliness

on a shore that departs and returns

like someone with no desire to leave home.

To my only friend:

I wish you were here,

so we could take a long walk


Rana al-Tonsi is an Egyptian writer and poet. Born in Cairo in 1981, al-Tonsi is the author of nine collections of poetry, most recently Index of Fear (Dar Al-Ain Publishing, 2018).

Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist currently based in Cairo. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and an MFA in poetry from New York University. She is the author of the chapbook Field of No Justice (African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books, 2021).