A Summer on the Nile

A Summer on the Nile is my first book of poetry, written during my stay in Egypt and over the course of the following year, my senior year in high school. That year was not a pleasant one for me, for the most part, so the poems are not all wonderfully uplifting, though some are.

Because I use special transliteration and Arabic fonts on both the Macintosh (and in WordPerfect 6, years ago when I used a Wintel PC), and it is difficult to use such fonts on the web, the rendering of Arabic words and phrases will be somewhat less than exact. Long Arabic vowels I can easily indicate with the circumflex (^), but strong consonants, which require dots underneath the letters, will have to wait for Unicode. The primary problem remaining will be differentiating between the `ayn and the hamza, or glottal stop. To this end, all `ayns (an English long "i" but from the throat) will be designated with a grave apostrophe (`) and the hamzas (the sound made between "uh-oh") will be acute apostrophes (´). Also, the special instance in the Cairo colloquial dialect where the qf (hard "k" or "q") is silent will be indicated by a bolded apostrophe ('). This dropped sound is mostly not noticed, but occasionally sounds like a hamza.

For best results, set your fixed-width font size to ten point.

Titles in all italics are only descriptives for works without titles.
(It might be a while before all of these are on-line)

white ball Dedication
white ball Jasmine and Turkey (an introduction)
white ball An Egyptian Journey
white ball Shahda
white ball For Kate wal-Qhira (To al-telfon)
white ball The Head of Hasan
white ball For Comfort
white ball al-Bayt fil-Qhira
white ball Shaykh `Umar's Thuluth
white ball Footsteps of the Sphinx
white ball al-Kasra al-Fasla (The Last Tic-Tac)
white ball al-Hra
white ball The Knight of Muqattam (a response to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Kate")
white ball Sabh il-Full
white ball "Y Rabb!"
white ball al-Gebel
white ball al-Sultna
white ball Ha''a f Harm
white ball On the Road to Jerusalm
white ball Dr al-Salm
white ball The Road to Heliopolis
white ball Mab'ara al-Far`n
white ball Snellville Smells Like Cairo


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                                             Saturday, November 26, 1994

Here I am, sitting as a lonely man in my room on a cold, dreary, rainy day at 
the end of November.  It is two days after Thanksgiving, and the pain of that 
day still lingers strongly as I bang out nonsense on this obsolescent 
machine, the electronic typewriter.

It seems like only yesterday I was celebrating the Fourth of July in Ma`d 
with a group of people whom I hardly knew but were my best friends.  What has 
become of us and our wonderful experience that we are like this: hearing only 
the clattering of the dinosaur as we remember . . . .

Drifting away, the jasmine wafts through the crowded streets.  People are 
talking everywhere.  "Come to my shop!"  "I know exactly what you want!"  
"Perfume, real cheap!"  "Here mister!  Leather, gold, silver!  Come!  Buy!"  
Even the Aussie fellahn: "Ice cold Coca-Cola!  Ice cold!"

The sounds of trucks grinding through the twisted alleyways of Khn 
al-Khall.  People telling people to get out of the way.  No one listening.  
Trucks stopping.  Horns honking from Shri`a al-Azhar.  Boys on bikes, 
ringing their bike bells to let us know of their approach.  Littler boys with 
pushing- or pulling-carts, using the same bell, alerting Kmart shoppers of 
the blue-light specials they bring on their pushing- or pulling-carts.  The 
smell of exhaust from the bus stop on Shri`a al-Azhar makes its way through 
the streets and alleyways too, just as Mahfz would through Gamliya.  
There's the smell of dust and trash, and even a faint whiff of Coca-Cola or 
shwerma from a vendor.  If you're lucky, you'll come across a large, 
picturesque man carrying the drink vendor's equivalent of bagpipes.  He 
colorfully tilts the selected side and fills up a cup with the desired 
beverage, flags on the contraption streaming.  Or some man in a galabiyya 
will chase after you, grab you by the arm, and drag you into his shop.

Maybe you want to escape the main strip and find some peace, or you want to 
see another part of the sq.  You turn down the side alley, through the 
scaffolding, and come upon an excavation/construction/restoration of a mosque 
all in one.  You notice that they're always ready to bargain when you don't 
want the item, but that they never will bargain when you want it.  Sometimes 
the quality is suspect, but you like the item.  Do you buy it, or do you look 
for something better in another shop?  What happens if you turn down one 
dark, twisted alley and find a shop, only then realizing ma`andish fils, and 
that you don't remember how you managed to get so deep into the place and 
will never find it again.  You also realize that the shopkeepers on the front 
must have designed all of the alleys so that you think you're going deeper 
in.  But you never do; you just end up right back on the main drag again.

Walking past a shop, you encounter a man outside who tries to sell you the 
top to a miniature minaret.  Never mind that you came on a plane and could 
never get it home.  "Buy it anyway."  Or, "My pretty, I do something for you; 
now you do something for me," and the leather-salesman bends over for a kiss.

One guy invites you into his tiny shop, room only for the six of you, and you 
all sit down.  He tells the kid to go back and keep bringing in the t-shirts 
you want, but the kid never gets it right.  You search all over for the 
perfect little clay man: not too big, not too gaudy, not too expensive, not 
too touristy.  Gosh, everything is touristy!  All the golds and silvers and 
brilliant colors in tourist-trapping fabrications.  Not that reality is 
bland, but the items for sale looked like they had so much gold and silver on 
them, as if gold and silver were going out of style.  "Come into my 
pap-ee-rus shop" they all say.  "Come now because tomorrow I go to Amrk for 
my brother's wedding."  But later it's "the shop closes tomorrow for two 
months to draw more pap-ee-rus!"  Funny how they always appeared to have 
plenty of unsold pap-ee-rus (or should I say, bananna rind).  Or searching 
for full.  Jasmine is the essence of al-Qhira.  You walk up and down the 
corniche in a group or with a girl, and you're besieged by boys selling full 
or roses.  Go yourself in search of it for a surprise party for a girl's 
birthday, and not a bit to be found, save some that one soldier gives to 
another.  Or you ask the traffic cop if you can take his picture (useless 
laziness of the police) and he shakes his head no.  Or an off-duty soldier 
greets you on Shri`a al-Azhar your first time in Medieval Cairo, (waiting 
for the rest) and tells you the real bazaar is the Street of the Tentmakers; 
Khn al-Khall is the tourist bazaar, he says.  You remember these things 
before they forever fade.

Such is the power of a lonely, cold, dreary, rainy night in November.

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An Egyptian Journey

This is not Cairo:

Five-Star Hotels on the Nile,
Dinner cruises and casinos.
Tourists shuttled from tourist stop to tourist spot
In air-conditioned buses.
The Egyptian Museum,
The Gold of the Pharaohs
The rich clothes —
The inner courtyard of AUC.

(Yea, though I was once part of it,
I despised it.)

This is not Cairo; this is not Egypt.

Cairo is the smog and dust
Enshrouding the city in mourning.
It is four or six in a small taxi
Riding on the bumpy roads
Through the summer heat
And perhaps being ripped off by 60 cents.

It is al-Azhar Mosque,
Still damaged from the Earthquake.
Tens of people crammed onto a bus
That doesn't stop; just drives.
Jasmine sellers,
Construction projects started
Half completed
Never finished

Street vendors impoverished,
Donkeys, mules, horses, chickens, cats,
Hay wi mt f nafs ilmakn —
Life and death in the same place —
Several English spellings of Mar Girgis on the Metro
Catcalls at our women;
50+% of theirs in veils.
Mint tea, factories belching smoke and dust
Recycling; Mercedeses and Suzuki vans
Wanting the same spot on city streets
Dirty Nile, Zamalek, soccer fields —
Streets in the Northern Cemetery — wedding —
Life and death in the same place —
World Cup Soccer (in Arabic)
Three television channels
Bumpy roads.

  Rice and corn —
No lanes, Malish, inshallah,
The Delta, the Canal,
The Desert Road.
The Coptic Church, "Santi Bishoi"
Mamlks, Ottomans,
Caliphs, Khedives,
Ftimids, Saladin —
Seventeen million crammed into a city.
Life and death in the same place.

Beef Pepperoni at Pizza Hut,
7UP, Sprite, and Teem; Coke, Pepsi, Sport Cola — all the same
VIP-Police Escort to Alexandria —
Makes me wonder — Why?
Bicycles, fellhn
al-Ma`d, trash on the street,
Qurns on the dash,
Amulets from the mirror, dancing eggs
(Work hard, Work smart)
Dilma shy, bakshsh, Baraka.

Friends waiting — the Hotel
Kindly children with flowers
A father carrying his dead son in the city,
A naked boy cared for by the village
Cleaning sidewalks thrice daily,
Seven tons of sand, Sfs,
Nights on the roof, sunrise in the Valley.
Pride —
The Kleenex girl — Kleenex for everything,
Even a half-eaten apple — no handouts —
This is Cairo. This is Egypt.


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al-Kasra al-Fasla
(The Last Tic-Tac)

The Tic-Tac is finally gone;
The last of the august race has disappeared.
I'm not sure if I'm happy or I'm sad;
The windblown Cairene sands
Change truth from glad to mad.
Sometimes I don't know if I should stay
And let myself just fade away
Or return to the city by the bay
At 4 AM to rise to pray.

Called from the minaret of Qytby,
I have no choice;
Hardship and truth have stolen my voice.
A disposable society is not the way to go;
Our systems of morals we give, throw upon throw;
Too many times we've fallen in this trap
Passing from one to another form of sin.
So let us return to the truth
Echoing now from the towers of Qytby

Thus he returns to khamsa wa `ishrn to pray

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Snellville Smells Like Cairo

Snellville smells like Cairo;
I knew it on the road.
Emilie's is like Carroll's . . .
Yesterday, Cairo came home.

I wandered through the city
Around the courthouse
Danced ghostly images of Midn al-Tahrr
The city is my home.
Yesterday, Cairo came home.

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