Fatena Alghorra: Three poems Translated by Jonathan Wright

Fatena Alghorra


To my body and my soul:
These two taught me many secrets


A cell with rusty bars,
my heart,
that thing sashed in black throughout the year
My heart that looks like a pomegranate
wrapped in strong silk
thrown in a cell looking out on a mountain
with a river running below, and birds singing
Gazelles run by, and lions lie in wait for their prey
The smell of wet grass fills the air
and my heart’s there in that rusty cell

There decay lurks
and under it a dry sticky pool gathers
and the smell of the cold green walls suffocates it
and my heart doesn’t roll
It doesn’t groan
and it isn’t stirred by an occasional gust of air
that creeps through a small crack near the window
that hangs in the distance
as if under the spell of a black magician

It stands like that
aware of everything happening around it
aware of everything not happening inside it
and it doesn’t budge an inch
It isn’t interested in people’s concerns
for the drowned on the beaches
nor the sores on the bodies of those
under siege fearing death
nor those on hunger strike
in search of freedom

Colourful words don’t stir
the veins of my slavish heart
nor paths strewn with roses
It just stands there
and indulgent


Take this body
Cover it
It doesn’t call for blankets
You just need to wrap your arms around it
for things to start
You’ll find gaps and big holes
Don’t let this worry you
or scare you away
They are small embers that have fallen
and no one has picked them up
It might seem rather cold to you, and dark,
it’s no more than the fallout from a continual autumn

Don’t worry if red rivers suddenly
rise and flow between your fingers
A pleasant smell like lavender
it has just emerged from under the guillotine
because of a change in the mood of the universe
but the knives have taken their share of it

These rivers will dry up
after a while
I remembered I had forgotten to prepare it for you
I can rely on you
That will give me great pleasure

Open its veins with your hands
as you cut open a stick of sugarcane
to make a flute
Open these veins
Take off your shoes
Go down
Choke deep
Pick up all its white stones
I forgot to buy you new prayer beads

Keep pressing in
until you reach my heart
You might not see it the way they told us
red and heart-shaped
you’ll find thick dust on it
and the leftovers from past wars
It will cost you more effort
to remove those layers
You’ll get right to the core
as soon as the colour of pure flesh shows
Not red, as they told us,
it’s rosy pink
and I forgot to put a rose in your shirt pocket



What can I do for you, Love, to have you come?
How can I persuade you that in this room
a woman awaits?
A woman who spends the night in front of a rusted mirror
surveying her crumpled appearance
Prolonged by the music
the courtyards open street markets
whenever you go
and a circus is set up, with colours dancing,

A woman who never turned away a fortune-teller,
man or woman,
who drank the morning dew
and an infusion of Christ’s thorn leaves
who wears an amulet inscribed with talismans
as a necklace
who summons you whenever one trembles in fear

Love, where do you live?
so I can send a posse to fetch you
so you can lie at my feet
chained with your head bowed
your head in my hands as I turn it like a doll’s
I put my hand in front of your nose
to check you’re still breathing

I can hear the whores moaning behind their doors
with their partners
and you reach out your hand
to tie them together
You tighten your grip on them
the women moan
the men moan
and I melt in pain
and you raise your head
with a sly smile from the corner of your mouth

What can I do for you, Love?
I’ve given up my crown
I’ve roamed the back streets
in torn clothes and with unkempt hair
reaching out to the passers-by along the way
yet nobody sees me
I have eaten shit
cooked to an old folk recipe
I have slept among vipers
I have shivered from fever
I have drunk the saliva of lepers
With my nails I have ripped off layers of my skin,
and you didn’t batter an eyelid . . .

What can I do for you, Love?
You have laid waste the paths that reach me
You have scattered scorpions
and crushed glass along the road
You have set up barricades at the junctions
and behind the corners
You have put out the lamps that lead to my heart . . .

Every morning
I clean the crushed glass and scorpions
from these lanes and streets
I clean the lamps well
fill them with pure oil
light them and leave
I pull down the barricades
with thin arms of ivory
then I come back
and wait on the stoop by my wooden door

I find the lanes and streets
covered in crushed glass and scorpions
the lamps broken
the oil spattered on the hems of the women’s dresses
their clothes are clean
and their faces rosy
The courtyards in their houses are covered in last night’s water
Every night I repeat the same ritual
I wait
maybe your ghost will pass by on a moon-lit night

And when you come
you’ll pass like a cruel god
crowing over my cowering heart
You run your hands over it
to find out how much moisture’s left in it
You look up contented
when you realise it’s beating, slowly and falteringly,
You walk off confidently
indifferent to me screaming behind you
my feet, the skin stripped off by the broken glass,
Tunnelled to the nerves by scorpion stings,
Move on, and you don’t look back, Love,
as I fall to pieces . . .

Translated from the poet’s collection Thuqub Wasia‘a (Wide Holes),
published by Almutawassit Books, Milano, 2018
ISBN: 978-88-85771-18-5


First Publish in Banipal 65 Summer 2019


Republished here with agreement