‘Arresting a Poem’ and Two More by Mona Kareem, tr. Sara Elkamel

Above a Floor of Lament 


As he tried to finish painting her eyes

The painting drowned in tears 

All the carpets of kings are red 

And so are their costumes 

He screams into his glass: 

Why do you set fire to my heart’s curtains

Instead of washing them? 

When I ignite an idea 

They extinguish it with urine 

The river of my soul 

Is full of  the fish of exile 

Ugly poets 

Slather their poems with cosmetics


From: What I Sleep for Today (2016) 


Cosmic Thread


The Indian man who won’t stop kneading

his wife’s feet on the subway

is at a loss over what to do 

for the remaining stations.


So he starts rubbing her legs,

draped over the thighs of the carriage

with the repose of a small rhinoceros.


His fingers burrow as if foraging 

for something hidden beneath the flesh,

and when he dozes off, he clenches her foot, 

frightened the AC would blow her away.


What if there was a flesh-colored woolen thread

crossing over the borders of one’s body,

tasked with gathering every stitch of the soul?


Now, try to press down on your own contours.

Begin with the outer linings of your thighs.

Poke them gently with your forefinger;

one poke after the other, 

to the very end of the body.


Or draw a jagged line

traversing the sands of grease


until you arrive, with the Indian man,

at every station. 


From: Words Don’t Come Easy (2022:Unpublished) 


Arresting a Poem 


In the evening, 

the ocean dusts its body

of all the moans cast into it. 


And in the evening, 

soldiers snatch the ocean’s poem 

off the street’s cheeks. 


…We look it in the face: 

The words wail in pain… 


From: What I Sleep for Today (2016)


Mona Kareem is the author of three poetry collections. She is a recipient of a 2021 NEA literary grant, and a fellow at Center for the Humanities at Tufts University. She held fellowships and residencies with Princeton University, Poetry International, Arab-American National Museum, Norwich Center, and Forum Transregionale Studien. Her most recent publication Femme Ghosts is a trilingual chapbook published by Publication Studio in Fall 2019. Her work has been translated into nine languages, and appear in LitHub, The Common, Brooklyn Rail, Michigan Quarterly, Fence, Ambit, Poetry London, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Asymptote, Words Without Borders, Poetry International, PEN English, Modern Poetry in Translation, Two Lines, and Specimen. Kareem holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the State University of New York at Binghamton. She has taught at Princeton, Tufts, University of Maryland College Park, SUNY Binghamton, Rutgers, and Bronx Community College. Her translations include Ashraf Fayadh’s Instructions Within (nominated for a BTBA award), Ra’ad Abdulqadir’s Except for this Unseen Thread (nominated for the Ghobash Banipal Prize), and Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

Sara Elkamel is a poet, journalist and translator living between Cairo and NYC. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and an MFA in poetry from New York University. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, The Yale Review, Gulf Coast, The Cincinnati Review, Poet Lore, Poetry London, Best New Poets 2020, Best of the Net 2020, among others. She is the author of the chapbook “Field of No Justice” (African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books, 2021).