Al-Ahram Weekly Online   27 May - 2 June 2010
Issue No. 1000
Special
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Death on the asphalt

By Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi

Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi has for long been considered Egypt's leading colloquial poet. Yet despite his fame he has always remained firmly attached to the idioms and language of his birthplace, Abnoudi, in Al-Said El-Gwani (the southernmost portion of upper Egypt).

The extract below is taken from a single-volume poem sequence, Al-Maut' ala-l-Asfalt, an extended eulogy for the Palestinian cartoonist Nagi El-Ali.

First published in 1988, the volume was dedicated to a martyred artist, and to past and future Palestinian martyrs, in commemoration of the first anniversary of the Intifada.

Mother,

While sitting alone at the crossroads

Turning your grinding stones

Around and around and around

As you lament, singing your dirge

For an absent beauty

Do not forget to sing for me

A couplet

Composed of the oldest, darkest threads of mourning

Not shrieked nor wailed --

Just insert into your strong

A name,

The name of a dead friend,

Nagi El-Ali

Where will we find the grave

Of Nagi El-Ali,

A thorny grave,

Coated with wormwood?

As death approaches

Death himself is scared,

And even if he overcame his fear,

Then destiny will still

Keep him at bay.

The tomb of Nagi El-Ali

The tomb of a simple man,

The tomb beneath which lies

a young man,

a man whose heart is green,

a patriot whose heart

bore the land of shanty camps.

The land is an alienation

And the dream is private property.

A map of a quasi-homeland.

Its perimeters wired and bared

Behind which stand the exile,

Hands behind his back.

This homeland yearns

For the land.

Foolish in his love --

Of course he was foolish

Those of you who the homeland

Must love as Arabs do,

Piously, purely ... with cunning.

Were each allotted his just desserts.

Rewarded in life by deeds

Then I should be the one

Who murdered him in England.

The moment he drew a picture,

A broken banner comforting

Unspeakable pain,

The moment he exposed me

And drew

An identical copy of me,

I killed him.

He was, unlike others,

Incapable of lying

And unlike others

He painted not with a brush but a blade.

He exposed the actors

In the middle of the play

While they were my own hand, and with

The hands of others

I killed him

So you may rest assured, my countries,

You will not again be disturbed

By a picture.

Your people are not my people.

Sometimes, even, your people

Are not your people.

Please do not bother me

With details of your killer.

I do not intend

To seek vengeance for your death.

All that I can do

Is envy you that death

Dying in a strange land

Is infinitely preferable

To the shame of dying at home

For your trip carelessly in light

While we trudge, shamefaced , towards death.

I am the Mossad- fassad -corruption

I have killed many people before.

Just ask

Kamal, Ghassan,

Maghed Abou Sharar.

And when I die

It will be no more than as if

I never saw you.

No flowers on your grave,

Nor the planting of cactus.

You wanted to kill ignorance

But the ignorant are smart, very smart.

You were killed

And the obvious you become a secret.

Mother,

While sitting alone at the crossroads

Turning your grinding stones

Around and around and around

As you lament, singing your dirge

For an absent beauty

Do not forget to sing for me

A couplet

Composed of the oldest, darkest threads of mourning

Not shrieked nor wailed --

Just insert into your strong

A name,

The name of a dead friend,

Nagi El-Ali

Issue 50 - 6 February 1992

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