The Story of Light

For my father, Mohamed Metwalli Awad

Long ago a primitive man went out to his forest
He saw the moon above
Hit it with a stone and hurt its feelings
Since then the moon leaked light
From the opening in its dim glass
Despite that, some people still get lost on their way to the light
And seek a guide
Who would capture that speck of light in their souls
Tossing it before them
They chase after it
Some drink it in bars
Or disgorge it on the chests of their beloved
And others mold it into verse,
Or draw with it a lake and some trees with flocks of departing birds
Because of a gunshot in the air
That will never hit the moon now
Since it’s a holiday
And the fish in the lake revel in its light
The poet has lit a page or two
The drunk has guzzled half a bottle of light
And the lover has illuminated a whole bosom
Meanwhile, on the park bench
An old man was telling an attractive girl
The story of the first year of light!
He said that before great groups of stars
Were dimmed by what seemed to be a grip of divine inspiration
Noisy vagabonds crowded into the park,
With their gypsy music and flashy rags
They used to drink, talk politics
And disgorge light,
Birds perched safely on their shoulders.
The park was a grazing land for pastoral poets,
And lovers, unashamed of their nudity
While a film reel, in the background,
Displayed rare black and white footage
Of a few defunct moons
There was an owl high above
Whose eyes widened
With a light friendly to everyone
It kept hovering to purify their souls of rats and scared rabbits
Let’s say that’s how the story went!
In other words, the moon’s feelings were hurt
Because of a stray stone
So it leaked tears of light
On the empty park bench
On the eyes of the owl
On the rodents revealing their hideouts
On the escape of spirit from spiritual leaders
The moon’s feelings were hurt because of a stray stone.
It leaked light in tears.
A eulogy for everyone
A eulogy that comforted the son
Made him unafraid of death
And willing to be buried next to his father’s grave,
A eulogy that transformed the desire for breeding
Into a desire for a peaceful death.
A eulogy that promised everyone
To wake the dead from their forests
So they could make love
Unashamed Of their organs
Which keep disintegrating into dust
Unashamed of their skulls, that appeal to poets,
Which smile light during kisses,
Unashamed of their stuttering when female skeletons
Admire their rib cages,
Of their bouquet of radishes that look like roses
When presented before copulation as a primitive talisman,
Of the red snapper that was baked under the sand,
When the sun dried up its sea
The sun–the ally of diurnal people, Bedouins, farmers and shepherds–
Unashamed of the poetry of city people,
And cultural metropolises, an endangered species,
Unashamed of their tailbones and their stench!
They used to kiss their women and worship the moon
Since its feelings were hurt because of a stray stone.
It leaked, then cried light over their souls,
Sustaining them and their sons
Those who fear a peaceful death
Next to their fathers’ graves
In the ancient forest
Where the owl hovers with its eyes
The poet with his light of the page
And the fathers would rise, at night, from their graves
At the rarest patch of light
And teach their sons passion like the skeletons did
Wooing women with poetry, tickles, humor
And enlightened wineglasses
The moon’s feelings were hurt because of a stray stone
It leaked light in tears
To sustain everyone’s soul in the graveyard
Yet the fish ate each other in search of light,
Poets ate the poems of their peers
The trees, their birds
Park benches, their sitters
The hideouts, their rodents
The skeletons ate the skeletons
Then it was dark in the world
And we heard from our graves a voice like divine inspiration saying
That there was just one man left
Who looked exactly like the primitive man of the forest.
He was leaning on his cane,
Searching the earth for a stone,
While the moon was trembling with fear!


N.B.: The forest and the park merge since they are the past and the present of the place.


Mohamed Metwalli

Mohamed Metwalli was born in Cairo in 1970. He was awarded a BA in English Literature from Cairo University, Faculty of Arts in 1992. The same year, he won the Yussef el-Khal Prize by Riyad el-Rayes 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, The Story the People Tell in the Harbor, appeared in 1998. He was selected to represent Egypt in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program in 1997, and served as Poet-in-Residence at the University of Chicago in 1998. He compiled and co-edited Angry Voices, an anthology of offbeat Egyptian poetry published by the University of Arkansas press in 2002. His most recent collection, Lost Promenades, was published by al-Kitaba al-Ukhra in 2010.

Mohamed Metwalli and 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 in Syria from 1997-1999. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Texas Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, Storysouth, Storyglossia, and Guernica, and on National Public Radio. Currently, she is a Senior Instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.

Copyright (c) al-Kitaba al-Ukra, 2010. English translation copyright (c) Mohamed Metwalli and Gretchen McCullough, 2011.