A Dedication Poem

A panoramic shot of Piburger Lake in Austria
Piburger Lake, Austria. Paul Gilmore/Unsplash

To an ordinary man
Who couldn’t care less
About disasters befalling him,
To some modest happiness
That this man finds in a bar in wintertime
Without a fight,
To a tax-free beer bottle,
To a woman who does not intend to ditch me
     in the next five minutes,
To a joke strong enough to lift our dusty coats
To the inside of a tavern,
To a dream, free of guilt
As if it were a tax collector,
To a glistening poem
Like the surface of a lake
That won’t be scratched by a pebble
Thrown by a playful child,
To a moment of silence and exchanged looks,
To a fragile soul like glass
cracking in this silence
Because of a reproachful look,
To a previous relationship
That doesn’t cause a current headache,
To a bruise in my ribs
That I sheltered as if it were a dead embryo,
To my past life,
Which would not, probably, cause harm to
    anyone now,
To a woman who snatched me out of depression without anything in return,
To an old train line
That everyone has forgotten on purpose,
To a wooden stool 
Falling on the head of an ordinary man
– Who was talking to me five minutes ago –
And killed him,
To opera singers
With fat bottoms and narrow horizons,
To feminists who will blame me
For not mentioning a woman
As an active element in the poem,
To a blank sheet and a pencil
And the freedom of a child to narrate the scene,
To a dream of an ordinary man of fishing
Under a clear sky
In a lake whose surface will never be scratched by
    a pebble,
To coastal cities that forgot baby sharks,
Octopuses, and fishing poets,
To the cats of the rocks, punctured straw baskets,
And historic fortresses
When they merge with seaweeds,
To a fisherman who broke free from having
     a sweetheart
And hence became ordinary
Making it possible now for a stool in the tavern to smash his head,
To a coastal cook who found a love letter
On a disintegrating yellow paper
Dated 1912,
Cooked its ingredients in oyster broth
And fed it to his customers who came
From faraway towns,
To his spices that changed thoughts and beliefs,
To the sand and its other buried letters,
To leaning against her arm
When I had a bruised rib
Refusing to acknowledge weakness,
To her nobility, not showing power
One sunny morning on our way to the sea,
To those who died in another dark sea
Before uttering their last words,
To their dreams that drowned at the outset of the 
     last century –
Of not missing a single moment of pleasure in life,
To their souls that will keep haunting their stranglers,
To the Titanic, when splitting,
To whoever likes this poem!


Translation from the Arabic by Gretchen McCullough & Mohamed Metwalli

Mohamed Metwalli won the Yussef El-Khal Prize by Riyad El-Rayes Publishers in Lebanon for his poetry collection Once upon a Time in 1992. He was poet-in-residence at the University of Chicago in 1998. Other collections include The Story the People Tell in the Harbour (1998), The Lost Promenades (2010), and A Song by the Aegean Sea (2015). He compiled and co-edited an anthology of offbeat Egyptian poetry, Angry Voices, published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2002.

Gretchen McCullough (www.gretchenmccullough.wix.com/gretchenmccullough) is a senior instructor at the American University in Cairo. Her bilingual book of short stories in English and Arabic, Three Stories from Cairo, translated with Mohamed Metwalli, was published in 2011. A story collection, Shahrazad’s Tooth, was published in 2013.