As if the World Were Missing a Blue Window
Translated from the Arabic by Robyn Creswell
Nothing will happen but nothing will stay the same. Before
the end of the year, you’ll cross the sea and I'll cross the ocean
to meet in a city located at a seemly distance from each of our
homes. You'll translate some stories about sorcerres and
demons to buy the ticket, I'll invent a transparent lie to leave
Christmas dinner warm on the table and not miss my plane.
My body reposes atop the clouds. I'll remember each one
on my way to you, since it won’t be there for the return
flight. The rain that rises now as steam from the waters will
become water again. It's not by accident that I spend my flight
reading The Museum of Innocence. This won't make Pamuk
happy, though it might make the museum's founder feel less
All just to be here in a carpet store, about to buy the one
full of defects for our shared room. We don’t lie to the old rug
merchant: We’re both from Egypt and despite geography,
despite the separate paths our lives have taken, we're here, together.
We exchange gifts that couldn't be sent by mail: a bracelet for
a ring, The Tobacco Keeper for The World Doesn’t End. We drill
a peephole in the wall that separates us.
—You sleep a lot, sweetie, and never in my life have I seen
someone drink coffee with Coca-Cola.
—You have an intimate relationship with your toothbrush,
my love, and I've never met someone who had such raspy
lungs that she forgets to breathe when she laughs.
—You went back to Egypt at the right time.
—You left Egypt at the right time.
You buy my son a piece of agate, I buy your mother a kohl
jar. On the way home, each of us thinks, I wonder what the
right time is?
Each of us goes home. Kisses on the neck, scratch marks on
the back. Scents in the skin, pain beneath.
That’s how we planned a crime that would hurt no one but
ourselves. You have manuscripts to edit, while I go back to
roost atop my silence. The streets of Cairo are still crowded—
just open the window. But I can’t believe the mountains are
where they used to be. For me, the closest place at a safe dist-
from this desolation is death.
Impossible for me to see you in a city with no walls: here the
winds moan beyond the city gates, unable to enter. A walled
city—both of us need a prison to notice the birds flying above
it. It depressed me to think they were seagulls. How could
such wings belong to egg thieves? It depressed you to think
they were seagulls. How could these symbolic creatures, the
subjects of poets’ songs, feed on garbage?
You search for love, then don’t know what to do with it. Hand
clutches hand, then fears what it holds will never let go. The
ear gets used to one voice, which quickly becomes insuffer-
able. It’s like I'm peering into the darkness of the womb, look-
ing for the lucky little egg, clinging like her to the side of the
wall, waiting together for the moment of maturity and free-
dome, warmth and fulfillment, embodiment and creation, un-
sure whether life truly needs another child or not.
Love: again. Magnificent delusion we bring to life and then
try to control.
I’m intoxicated, you’re infatuated so who will take us home?
An open question, like a wound—a question we call exis-
tential. But it’s the taxi driver who will take us back to the
hotel. And so we disappoint the ancient poet with our facile
Like a little hole dug by settlers to torture local rebels, as ter-
rifying as a deep well . . . The will to crime crumbles at the
thought of punishment; victims’ souls circle the dim light.
Bats crash against the walls of memory. Having escaped the
bottle, the jinn don’t know what to do.
He and I
I’ll say to myself someday:
We were there as hostages
to a desire that felt like despair.
I put my emigration and his estrangement
on the golden scales
and suddenly we were rich.
Each of us tried to overpower the other,
looking for a freedom we had no reason to expect.
We were wise enough to renounce our self-absorption
and go back
to our roles as upstanding citizens in a modern society,
leaving our two beautiful bodies in that little hole.
It couldn’t possibly have been a hotel room.
Dawn is when the heart gets pulled in two directions. The
sun hasn’t yet opened her eyes, the moon hasn’t yet gone to
bed. . .
No dew gathers on the argan tree, which survives even the
I feel the desire to pray. I don’t know whom to address.
From THE THRESHOLD: POEMS by Iman Mersal. Translation and Introduction copyright © 2022 by Robyn Creswell. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All Rights Reserved.