Poems by Mohamed Metwalli

His Dreams

Once there were trains, a bouquet of flowers
And the wide, smiling eyes of a girl I had loved.
Once there was a lake, fishermen and a setting moon.
Once there was a shop, besieged by the fog, in a dark street in winter town.
Once there were two deaf strangers, signing to each other
Then exploding into laughter.
Once there were poems and love wrapped in aluminum bags
That was never delivered to the right address.
Once there were aimless promenades, idle talk
That flew with the breeze of the following morning.
Once there was a bar stool, the person now gone.
Once there was a place in the soul for an unexplored forest.
A half-made bed for a missing lover.
Once there were tarnished childhood mementoes
And a translation of a short story on a piece of yellow paper,
Which made me reach for others in a long life.
Once there was a wife, a coffee table and morning papers.
Once there was a companion of the road, a mistress
And a restaurant, witness to the turbulences in the relationship.
Once there was a traveler who kept writing his dreams until he had no more dreams!


Bordering Time

At the crossroads a man and a woman meet
And cling to each other, as if because of the rain,
Under one umbrella.
While he imagines grass shooting up suddenly from the asphalt
She recites to him “The Road Less Traveled.”

At the flower shop the seller was fighting sleep
While a puppy licked in between his wounded toes.

The pub owner at the corner was dimming the lights
Taking off his apron and flapping it in the air.

A pair of wings sprouted from the bearded beggar
He hovered on top of the square clock
When it struck two a.m.

A raven swooped down to snatch a pair of spectacles from a British academic
While he was drying them under the light;
A raven’s gift to the beggar.

No one was watching the diva on the square screen
But a thirty-five-year-old man
Who was convinced this was the most opportune moment
To commit suicide
As he sat on his suitcase.

At the edge of the countryside an exuberant poet
Embraced the fresh pastures
and was followed later by scores of immigrants
intending to sculpt a dream
at this late hour of the night.

There was a fat opera singer cradling a doll
That she never gave birth to,
Addressing it with words of apology
As the notes jazzed up
Before tossing it, at the end of the scene,
Behind the set.

Yes, there was an emotional mayhem in the theater,
From which the man and the woman emerged
That’s why they resorted to outlandish fantasy
Under the umbrella:
They made an angel out of the beggar
And quickly deported him to the poetic countryside.

With their eyesight they moved all the sleeping flowers in the shop
And pasted them to the sidewalk.

Then they spoke with the suicidal man about the art of opera
When he was soaked by the rain,
Leaning against the glass of the flower shop
Next to a poster of the show.

They woke up the seller and scared away his puppy
As if they intended to buy a bouquet
But only bought a single dead rose.

The street cleaner swept away
Most of the passing conversations in the square.
What was left seeped through a hole in his shoes
What was left has sprouted in reality
Forming varied tales of this moment,
Perhaps in the countryside,
At this late hour of the night!


A Sparrow Flew Over The Station Buffet

Usually two strangers
In the train station
Would talk about the changing weather.
The man mentions the cloud that once blocked
The train cars
and passengers had to get off
To push it aside.
(He remembers well a woman who refused to get off
And sought refuge in the bathroom.)
The woman mentions the herd of goats
Which blocked their way
Making her yell out of the window in the face of the deaf shepherd.
(She remembers well the conductor who was eying her thighs appreciatively
during the incident.)
And usually when the waiter whisks away the fragmented sentences
Heaping up commas and exclamation marks in the ashtray,
They leave.
In the background scene
A waterfall widens behind them
Sweeping away a sparrow
Whose death no one will remember.


No Flowers in the House Today

The mother is haunted by continuous nightmares
Like hallucinations of soldiers injured in war
And the father’s relentless snoring
Weaving in and out of the nightmares
Bones, heaped on two single beds.
Their children are grown and gone
Leaving behind, greeting cards
That need someone to dust them off
And be surprised by their ancient dates
And maybe hum a melodramatic song from the sixties.
This rolled-up poster of Chaplin
Might need someone to unroll it
To exchange a pure smile
With good-hearted Charlie
Who silently witnessed the fading of the children’s laughter
Between these muted walls.
In the past, the father recorded some of the laughter on reel tapes
BASF brand
And the mother stored the gadget
Under a chair in the living room
Hoping it would give birth to new voices
After the glimmer of the little elves has faded.
But no harm done!
Now they own a car, a video cassette to record
Whatever they please of children’s songs, a mosquito repellent,
An Atari to kill boredom, a color television
To watch black and white movies and cry their eyes out.
They also have a lot of Kleenex to dry their tears.
On their phone, they recorded the number
Of a fast food restaurant,
Chatting with the delivery boy so long
That their meal would get cold
And they’d curse the bad food of the restaurant,
Hide underneath the blankets
With cigarettes alight during their sleep
With no dreams at all.
No dreams at all!



Mohamed Metwalli

Mohamed Metwalli was awarded a B.A. in English Literature from Cairo University, Faculty of Arts in 1992. The same year, he won the Yussef el-Khal prize by Riad el-Reyes Publishers in Lebanon for his poetry collection, Once Upon A Time. He co-founded an independent literary magazine, El-Garad, in which his second volume of poems appeared (The Story the People Tell in the Harbor, 1998). He was selected to represent Egypt in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 1997. Later he was Poet-in-Residence at the University of Chicago in 1998. He compiled and co-edited an anthology of Modern Egyptian Poetry, Angry Voices, published by the University of Arkansas press in 2002. He may be reached at [email protected].

Gretchen McCullough

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen, Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her MFA from the University of Alabama and was awarded a Teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-1999. Stories and essays have appeared in The Texas Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, Storysouth, and Storyglossia. Currently, she teaches writing at the American University in Cairo. She may be reached at [email protected]. Her work can be found on her website: www.gretchenmccullough.com.

Copyright (c) Mohamed Metwalli, 2008.  English translation copyright (c) Gretchen McCullough and Mohamed Metwalli, 2008.