KR OnlinePoetryTranslation

January 2011 in Egypt

Translated from Chinese by Lucas Klein

Had seen the stone pillar ruins of Yuanmingyuan but not the stone pillars of Luxor Temple now I’ve seen them.

Had seen the two-thousand-year-old Mawangdui Marquise of Dai remains but not three-thousand-year-old Ramesses II now I still haven’t seen him.

The jasmines of Ramesses II do not bloom in January.

When the jasmines don’t bloom, the cloves don’t bloom, and neither do roses.

Ramesses II never saw the carnival of revolution,

but I witnessed one that wasn’t carnivalesque.

January 25. Cairo.

Then Luxor. Then back to Cairo.

• •

The stone pillars of Luxor Temple are too thick, are arranged too densely, so I don’t understand them. Common knowledge reconstructed.

Hollywood screenwriters imagine this as an outer space alien military base.

They say each pillar holds up five gods.

Amon is the only one. Is that really what you think?

The sun drinks no water and sinks into the desert.

The moon shines on Tutankhamen’s palace encouraging lyrical insects to run wild.

On the banks of the Nile when ghosts in the form of paper reeds wail it’s a high-pitched wail.

Desert town. North Africa. The Arabian world.

The song from the minaret is lonesome but not individual.

An old man born near the pyramids comes up to model for photographs.

Asking for money from tourists he’s warm and professional, and when he doesn’t receive anything his frustration is human.

• •

Eight thousand years after its founding the people are in a backwater earning too little always hearing about others making too much.

The piss stench of mules drifts through the alleys. Trash covers the wilderness.

Corrupt politics can’t manage the trash covering the wilderness; it can only keep the grand hall clean.

The midlevel official making E£500 a month and the doctor making E£150 a month demand change.

The youths banding together to vent their anger and despair don’t know each other. Vent first, then we’ll see.

So the smoke from burning tires rises from three sides of the temple,

choking the gods inside—they proclaim themselves to be aliens so they should get respect and protection.

Anxious foreigners are smoking in the airport waiting area and no one cares.

The Romanian girl who worried about having nowhere to put her feet later disappears in the chaos of the crowd.

Yana, where are you?

Among the rioters looting the flower shop may be one who wants a rose for his beloved.

Whether you can be his beloved depends entirely on whether you’re lucky enough to survive.

• •

Chinese people only go into Chinese restaurants,

no exception for a Cairo where Chinese restaurants are rare for a Cairo demanding change.

On the TV in the Chinese restaurant the old monarch retreats until he has nowhere left to retreat to,

and has to wait for a genius writer of tragedies to make him into another King Lear.

His 1973:

Sinai Peninsula October War. Egypt breached Israel’s Bar Lev Line.

But in 2011 when he was deposed:

The food in the Chinese restaurant in Cairo was so bad it couldn’t get any worse but business was fine.

In a line of refugees tasting revolution is not a dinner party

but that’s something we learned last century.

Use chocolate to allay hunger enough times and chocolate becomes disgusting.

I suddenly recall the smelly rubber shoes I wore holes through on Tiananmen Square, representing youth.

• •

The flame on the TV. The green armored police vehicle.

Stones with direction but no brains, crowds with brains but no direction.

Gunshot can disperse a crowd of three or five, but not a great body of water.

Like water crowds traverse Tunisia and Egypt, then Libya, then Syria.

History does not retain each day.

After nightfall, the tents on Tahrir Square gasp but do not move their feet and are taken in by the wide-angle lens.

We’ll see after it’s done no one knows the outcome. Enough.

Hosni Mubarak was in power for thirty-one years. Enough. He has sons, even grandchildren. Enough.

The heads of the Muslim Brotherhood have meetings all night to make history.

When some are proud some will be heartbroken, and if everyone’s heartbroken night will never fall.

• •

History ended once in 1989, and now it’s ending again in 2011.

Fate loves irony.

It will end again in America, Turkey, and Brazil. And again on Mars and on Jupiter.

Who can provide a decent explanation?

The people face the present, the elites face the future, and the kings face the past.

On the stone walls of the tomb passageway in the Valley of the Kings is carved excerpts from The Book of the Dead which are beautiful but then again illegible.

These illegible glyphs of the pharaohs—how was this perfect geometry deduced from the floods of the Nile?

How can they express a politics fitting the order of the starry sky and also mortality?

They have an underestimated complexity.

How can they arouse dawn extollers of the gods and evening protesters the lips of humanity?

Americans applaud and so do Iranians.

When the constellations regret sheltering the dictator the dictator regrets acquiescing to the prevalence of corruption.

• •

The importance of the pharaohs is in the length of their silence.

While I’m complaining about soldiers to my companion a military bus filled with officers passes by.

So the curfew.

Curfew means only sleep is allowed insomnia is not allowed, or you have to sleep whether you can fall asleep or not.

Tanks file in silently entering the city as if the streets were paved with cotton.

According to my experience violent streets should thunder, but not here.

In the Cairo night a serious-faced young soldier is handsome, incorruptible, affable, doesn’t shoot.

Perhaps he is another young Mubarak full of ideals about saving his nation,

unable to imagine the failures of his later years.

“All the good men died in 1973 on Sinai,” Noor says.

The brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood swear there is no choice but to be a good man but others probably disagree.

• •

Didn’t make it to the Egypt of Anwar Sadat’s assignation made it to the Egypt of Mubarak’s resignation. Am always making it to something.

Ramesses II rejoices underground glory splendor wealth and rank following him to the dark of the mausoleum.

The army takes over the country.

An unforetold new era starts in a hurry.

At every workplace employees pound on doors looking to settle accounts with their bosses voices full of fury and righteousness.

Until August 3, when Mubarak feeling wronged lies down on a tank to be judged.

At least he knows he’ll be better off than his nemesis Colonel Gaddafi;

he has already guessed

that an ended history will begin again, and again, and again.

Maybe he cried once,

maybe he’ll get Alzheimer’s. He neither hears nor asks about the news.

June 22, 2013