Two Poems
(translation by Sara Elkamel)

Mona Kareem

A moment of silence
to honor the soul of Mr. Juan MirĂł.

A moment of silence
for the bandit who loots music.

We love this old man
whose words clamber up our arms–
who does not quit his babble.

The angels of my eyes
perform their final prayer.

The wooden Trojan horse
commits suicide
in the inkwell of my blood.

Now my blood pressure rises
in the span of seven poems.

Now I turn down the music.

We have a manuscript leaning over
the balcony of stars.

We have poets wreathing the poem’s waist
with tin.

The temperature:
a million degrees beyond light.

We will be buried in memory’s corpse,
reconfiguring the cosmos.

The world trembles
in the lands of our wrecking.

Where has Mona Kareem gone,
among the swarm of friends?

Where has she run off to,
after she had shaped the cosmos
exactly the way she wanted?

Could she be in the non-place,
or will she scatter with the poem?

Perhaps she has gone looking for Mona Kareem!

The Golden Days

A poem was worth a thousand novels.

Shoulder to shoulder,
we chronicled the moment.

Before globalization, the poet freed history
from the executioners; he kept them

from devouring the days.

After the Gulf War, the poet walked in
to his apartment, and never left.

The lamp, the table, and the window
know who he is–and so does the door,

the corridor, and the pen.

I never see the poet taking the elevator down–
and if he goes for a walk, he avoids human interaction.

He prefers concrete to faces–
he archives lives in faded buildings
which bulldozers will annihilate,
and highways will decapitate.

Whenever a tear drizzles onto the poem,
he dries it in the city’s polluted air,
afraid it would turn cliché
or, God forbid, emit the incense of sentiment.

Let it all crash down on me
and my enemies, says the poet
as he rolls up his heart
and stuffs it into the desk drawer.

I met him on the Internet, and read his poems
like someone muttering holy verses in the face of a jinni,

lost in a glare that fails to illuminate the road;
like someone as dazed as the lips of a drunkard, sound asleep.

If modernism tore apart Noah’s ark, what do I care
if the flood engulfs me and my days!

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 Banipalprize), 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, MQR, Four Way Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Adroit Journal, 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).