[Forty-four years to learn]

Translated from Arabic by Robin Moger.


From Rakha’s collection ولكن قلبي [And yet my heart], a series of prose poems in response to verses by 10th century poet Al Mutanabbi.



I would the clouds which now are by me
send their lightnings on
to him who by him fall the tender rains



Forty-four years to learn what deema means. The tender rain. What falls without alarums. That it depends on the moods of the clouds, which—try upsetting them just once, just once remind them how hard life is and if that doesn’t bring terror from on high you can spit in my face. Can I have denied it so long? The lightning that transforms me into a ghost, contrite and crawling, wishing the earth would swallow me down, that makes water whisper drowning, that turns the dust to electric torture—the clouds alone can stop them. Only the clouds can send the deema, so graceful, so desirable, so full of joy to fold me in. Forty-four years to see the silver spheres dancing in swarms, in a bird shape, in a horse shape, taking shape to meet me, and to learn that longing is the waters which drip from bodies when parting wrings us out. My darling, by me the tender rains fall here. The skin on my skull from within is a sky. I try to be its clouds. Even the ground which bears me is only an excuse to write to you. Now the rain is soaking me through.


Youssef Rakha is an Egyptian novelist, essayist, and poet who writes in both Arabic and English. Born, raised, and based in Cairo, he graduated from Hull University in 1998, and has worked as a cultural journalist, literary translator, and creative writing coach. He is the founding editor of the bilingual website the Sultan’s Seal: Cairo's coolest cosmopolitan hotel, named after his acclaimed first novel, The Book of the Sultan's Seal.
Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic to English based in Cape Town, South Africa. His translations of prose and poetry appear in Blackbox Manifold, the White Review, Tentacular, Seedings, the Johannesburg Review of Books, Washington Square Review, and others. He has translated several novels and prose works into English including Haytham El Wardany’s The Book of Sleep (Seagull Press), Mohamed Kheir’s Slipping (Two Lines Press), and The Crocodiles (Seven Stories) by Youssef Rakha.