Izmir Poems by Mohamed Metwalli

 

Translated by Gretchen McCullough
and the author

 

metwali-poem--4 copy
Egyptian poet Mohamed Metwalli

 

Bicycles

Two bicycles by the boardwalk of the bay
Two casting poles
Two men fishing in the cold
whistling a nostalgic oriental tune
One of the poles just caught
A wild, red scorpion fish

* * *

His woman fast asleep in the room,
He stood on the hotel balcony
Whistling a nostalgic oriental tune
celebrating the red scorpion fish

A Friendly Cloud

Izmir’s winter is warm at night
Despite the frost.
The vapour rising
from laughing mouths
Along the seafront
Forms a friendly cloud
that warms the fat beach cats
and whoever will pass by—later
Without a lover
On the same path—
Alone.

Spotlight

A long time ago
The tourist watching these events
From his hotel balcony
Used to walk alone like this man
On the long path between the shrubs
Seeking a cloud to warm him
Or spotlights to capture
scenes from his past life
That were never worth filming
Or even a passing smile
From a stray dog
On the road

The Hard Labour of Finding a Cloud

Two custodial workers
from the Izmir municipality
sat in the park along the corniche
Playing cards at one a.m.
Next to two giant garbage sacks
And it so happened that a depressed man
Passed by them
looking for a cloud!

Hipponax

And remember the word of Gibran
When an Egyptian poet stood
In front of his tomb—on the mountain top—
Getting the chill
Since the spirit of Gibran was infused into his veins
Inspiring him with some of the old fables.

And remember the words of a poet
Who barricaded himself on a rock podium
In the city of Ephesus
North of  “Smyrna”,  later Izmir
—Sixth century Greek Parliament—
He was called Hipponax
His throat made hoarse
For virtue and beauty.
Then Ephesus ended in ruins,
Its surroundings acquired the name “Selçuk”,
After the “Seljuk” invaders,
But the words of Hipponax
Kept hovering above the place
Escorted by his ghost
And ready to assault
The veins of any poet
Who dared approach!

Side Stone

When you come out of the brothel
Surrounded by provocative ads about prostitutes
Etched on the floor stone
Head to the public library in Ephesus
To be lettered after quenching your lust.
And if you seek utter perfection,
As a young Greek man
You should, later, practice at the gymnasium
So that one of these amateur sculptors could
Portray you with bulging muscles filling
a whole side stone!

* * *

Yet an Egyptian poet
Happened to be there once
And only saw fat cats, lounging
—in the neighborhood.
He told the young female guide, Excuse me!
My country is full of ruins
And now I would like to sit
By the bank of the “Smyrna” bay
And ask the Aegean Sea,
Which deserted Ephesus—
Thanks to consecutive earthquakes—
For a new catch
To be blessed by the deities
Under a skittish sun
In winter!

A Cemetery of Wishes

A ferry slices through fog
Boarding passengers,
And a cloud high above
To board their dreams,
As we went to the Virgin’s Chapel
On the way to Ephesus.
We lit candles
Drank from the holy spring
Then discovered in the back
A cemetery for wishes along the wall
Shaped in paper shreds
Where ten languages insisted on burying their dreams
On this wall.
None of us dared
To add a new scrap of paper!

Noah’s Ark

That city, people,
Whose cold
Would always
Attract two by two:
A couple of fisherman with a pair of primitive poles
Two naive lovers
Two dogs who exchanged looks with them
Two construction workers staying late at night, next to a bonfire
Two larks tiptoeing
And a ferry cutting through the fog of the bay
And on board
From every part of the city:
Tourists, cats, parrots,
Poets, prostitutes and plants
Two by two!

11. The Sea of Darkness

How reminiscent of Beirut is tonight!
Pins of lights adorn the coastal mountain
Like stars in the distance
And a full moon behind four drunkards,
Just out of Restaurant Deniz
Which rips tourists off in broad daylight,
Crooning a song from the seventies
Aiming their throats towards the dark sea.
Izmir bay has no waves
Just a few lampposts
A couple of fat dogs and garbage men.
One single reaction
Was a licentious female giggle
In a nearby room.
And there is always a writer
Sitting on the 6th floor balcony
In Izmir Palace Hotel
Also aiming his poems
Towards the dark sea!

A Hoopoe

A man and a woman
Riding the clouds
Parked their cloud on the pavement
Rushed towards the wooden bench
To face the dark sea
—Close to the car—
A pair of construction workers have heaped up wood
Lit a fire
And kept themselves warm with childhood memories.
Gregory Peck just came out of “To Kill A Mockingbird”
To guide a man, whose wife wearing stilettos
Stumbled
On the cobblestones
And was mocked by some hoodlums—
How like a gentleman he should behave!
A hoopoe suddenly appeared
Instead of seagulls and ravens
On the only remaining shrub
On the coastal path!
On the following morning
Everybody adamantly denied
Seeing a hoopoe
Since it roamed the sea of darkness
And knew the whole truth!

 

first published in English in Banipal 52 Spring 2015