[In the ledger buried in my breast]

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.



of all the mountains I have crossed
how many saw the mountains, too, in me?
of all the seas, how many saw the sea?



In the ledger buried in my breast there is more than one set of clothes to dress the sky. I scarcely ever turn the pages to inspect their colors. Red doesn’t always mean death; green is usually plants. Between pink and brown there is a feel, a scent, no sooner longed for than I feel ashamed. I did that? With them? In private, I page through the ledger and I long to look on it, innocent of what happened: lightning with a blue, like sleep, or sands that turn the air a choking gold, or a waveless cottony froth. The light is truly confounding. The battlefields were claiming me. Each time I’d dispatch an opponent, I would edit a page in blood. The sky is buried in my breast, promises triumphs, but I am naked before the mirror—feeling my wounds, taking a knee. Because we are the people who wounded us, my darling, the ones in whom we left our daggers before our tears for them had dried. And we are the ledgers of the years, dyed by the vestments of the sky, wherein we seed the wastes with miracles. We clasp the pages to us till they turn into our chests. Who swims the ocean is become as brine. Who climbs the mountain is transformed to air.


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.