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Translation: Egyptian Poetry [by Susan Brind Morrow]


Songs of Baramhat

Salah Jahin

Baramhat is the first month of spring in the Coptic calendar, the calendar of ancient Egypt still in use today, along with the Islamic and the Gregorian. The most notorious months are Amshir (February/March) which is characterized by inescapable sandstorms, and Tuba (January) which is bitterly cold. The poem follows the progression of the year from midsummer (Abib, Melaoon) during which time it is often too hot to go around in the day time. Tut (toot) is September.

Sucked through the ribs 
Like milk from the breast
Unceasing, but not by a child-
Tears give way to blood
Give way to fire
Give way to words-
Red, resounding, terrible…
So the strength of the sun in summer burns out sweat.
And I-
My breast
Is a bronze fortress
That scorches the eyes
The heat increases
And melts its lock
And passes.


Malaun in all the books is silence,
Malaun in all the books is dumb.
The silence of branches webbed tight by spiders
Though horses trip through them.
Bright delicate birds sing,
They chirrup out their lives.
And I…
My heart is another bird
And if it doesn’t sing it dies.


Oh sweet wind, the month of Tut,
The lock of summer is melted and gone.
Fly away over the roofs, my heart,
To the house without ivy or jasmine,
To the mother of the eyes 
The eyes with hard words and sad smiles
And say to her,
“Oh friend to those who wander
Your friend who has loved you 
year after year has returned.
And by life- a night of longing,
By dawn and those who cannot sleep
By morning and those who hope
By noon and those who sweat
By evening and those who are tired
By Maghreb- and what is it
But a punishment for madmen?
Do not abandon a friend
Who was never false
And never- though love was lost
Cried out-
And never said, “But I…”
May the earth and sky be my witness.”

And around the shanties and the hovels,
Heart,when you go
Don’t go as a nightingale or as a bat-
Go as what you are,
A heart
With a thousand eyes 
and a thousand ears
And a thousand thousand tongues.
Crawl on your belly on the pavement in the dust
And if it is the cowardly month of Tuba, the brutal,
Listen and see what rises in the wind,
Oh heart, oh million,
Say to those in the house of tin,
“Wake up!
Your lost friend returns.
Your friend who wandered too far, forgive him.
Oh you who live in a house of tin,
Come out, rejoice!
I am not Christ,
But I’ll tell you something,
And I swear it to you,
I swear to you-
The world is lie upon lie
And you alone are true.”


Sucked through the ribs
The heat of noon unbuttons my breast,
My breast, still full of sighs,
Sighs and clanging iron and songs.
Oh come Baramhat- Spring, perfume,
Greenness, sparrows, silkworm.
Come here and see me without a mask.
For after Amshir, the father of wind,
And Tuba, the father of frost,
You come Baramhat, you gem,
You father of sun,
And my heart
Doesn’t know how to whisper.

The Falcon

Amal Donqal
Go round, winged falcon, go round
The year passes and the end will come
And when my death comes
It comes around, like the ravenous falcon.

The Pyramid Texts

2500 B.C.

The sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky.
Before the doors close the gate to the path 
through the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,
As the falcon flies as the falcon flies
May Unis rise into the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.
They make a path for Unis.
Unis takes the path.
Unis becomes the falcon.


1200 B.C. (?)

The Song of the Harper


Death is before me today
Like the smell of myrrh
Like sitting under sails in the wind
Death is before me today
Like the smell of lilies 
Like sitting on the shore of a drunken land
Death is before me today

Invocation to a Scribe

If you learn this profession 
You will become a writer
Think of the writers of the past
Their names have become immortal
Even though they are dead
And their descendants are gone.
They didn’t make themselves tombs out of copper
With tombstones of iron from heaven
They didn’t think about leaving heirs
In order to perpetuate their names.
They made heirs out of books
They had written themselves.
People they will never know are their children
For a writer is a teacher to all.
Their houses are buried, 
their servants are gone,
Their graves are forgotten, 
But their names live on 
In the books they made
While they were alive.
Be a writer. Take this to heart.
And your name will be like theirs.
Writing is better than something made of stone
Than a solid tomb
For it lives in the heart.
A man decays,
His corpse is dust
His family dies,
But his books live on.

September 21, 2022

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February 25, 2022

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November 05, 2021

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October 07, 2021

June 15, 2021

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May 26, 2021

May 19, 2021

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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