Black and White Streets

The Utopia of Cemeteries
April 20, 2018

The lights go out in the Cairo sky
On the metal bridge, a blind man struggles against the railings
Green paint smears against his clothes
But in the dark, it can’t be seen
He feels its softness against his skin
As he falls into the Nile
Two cars crash into me
One had been going the wrong way
Between them I am crushed,
Crushed so hard not a drop of blood pours form my head

Here I am, under the cars
In a small dwelling that wraps around my ribs
An ant jumps suddenly
And bites my right arm, and I call out, “Ah!”

Water hoses extinguish the car fires,
The dark and gray flames
The water startles me, but no one notices
It’s just as well
I crawl out from beneath the tires
In a tuxedo
And heading towards the old Opera House

The rain taps on my Rolls Royce
Tonight the music is thunderous
I need to dance with a pale woman
I drive the car to Clot Bey St.
Then leave it and hop on a horse-drawn cart
Crossing Abu l-‘Ela bridge
with a group of women going to off to visit the graveyards,
I fall asleep on one woman’s thigh
and wake up drenched.
In the student demonstrations, the police chase after me
I run to hide under the two cars
Again, no blood.

When the cars disappear in a yawning pit
I jump after them
and fall into a huge funeral
I greet everyone while laughing out loud
One man doesn’t like me—he clasps a chain around my right hand
and passes the other end around, one by one, to everyone else,
The dead man’s shroud flies gravewards,
There are the coffin salesman, the nurse, the cemetery guard,
With the dead man’s family, his children, and neighbors,
All in a souvenir picture to honor the deceased,
And here I am in my white galabeya in front,
holding the camera.

The man lets go of the chain and cries
the cigarette falls from my lips onto the carpet
and the funeral bursts into flames.

I run away,
With a child on my back
He was crying all alone
He won’t stop crying
I push his forehead and he stops
I press it again, and he starts crying again,
With those sparkling eyes
And that flat expression
That stays on his face for hours
While I try to run away, he drops out of my arms
And bursts into tiny flames

Is there something for me in these fields now
As I flee the murder I have committed?
Who will burn my fingerprints
Or flood these fields when I am gone?

The dead child takes up a wide swath
His eyes: blue
Thirty meters from the point of explosion:
His black shoes hang from a branch
His metal hand: slowly melting
His head: no blood
Send us a new box of colors
So we can paint his eyes, his tongue and lips
And then fly him up like a flag over the fields!

Then, when the night shines pure
And moon is nearly complete light
A caravan of camels passes by
And I join them at the rear
And sit in a distant café I’ve never seen before
Twenty spoons swirl in cups
At the same time
That is the only sound
A woman walks in, staring straight at my penis
I start to take off my clothes in front of everyone
We come at the same time
In an open corner in the cafe
The woman leaves, and, in the darkness, nobody else appears to take her place

Inevitably, the electricity will go out
We will never know whether the coal in the waterpipe is burning bright
Or about heat whose sources are unknown
We can never be sure about the little glasses my friends wear
Or the streets that remain closed to those that live there
Or about the windows that are gone from sight now.

All of this helps the words fly over our heads
While we talk for hours and hours
We talk until our throats go dry
All of this helps those words that come out whose meaning we never awaken to
Those powerful words we use for hours and hours
Till the door suddenly opens
Or two cars collide in the street
Or the water faucet begins to leak
Drop by drop
And we fall asleep to its voice.

Translated by: Elliott Colla