Kareem Abdulsalam: Teargas Poems
4 July 2011
[With the smoke of the Egyptian uprising still hanging in the air, Kareem Abdulsalam recently published his ninth diwan, Teargas Cannisters (Qanabil musila li-l-dumu', Cairo: Dar al-Kitaba al-Ukhra, March 2011). Abdulsalam's poetry captures the elation of a revolution half started and the dread of waking too suddenly from a dream.]
1. Where have they Hidden Themselves?
Those who fired rubber bullets at eyes
Those snipers who aimed 12 mm. slugs
At heads and hearts
The drivers who tried to run over revolutionaries
With their armored cars
All of them have vanished.
They’ve hidden themselves somewhere
While those they killed
Remain as dead as they were
While those whom they injured
Remain as wounded as ever
While hypocrites now lend their support to the Revolution.
Those murderers, those hypocrites,
Where have they hidden themselves?
2. The King Is Furious
If the King were alive
Heads would roll
Especially the heads of the criminals who defiled his sacred presence
If Tutankhamen were here right now
He would order the soldiers stationed at the National Museum
To be bound in chains.
He’d order their heads shaved
He’d order them paraded around the country on the backs of lame donkeys
So that the people could jeer at them.
Those who exploited the storm of revolution
To steal inside, to vandalize his glorious statue
And to wreak havoc in his sanctum…
If King Tutankhamen were among us
He would push the traitors into the river Nile
To die a watery death.
He would cut off their hands and feet as punishment
And record these images on the walls of his temple.
3. Dictator, Which Do You Prefer?
Which of these do you prefer, Dictator:
To resign, or to burn down the entire country?
My son, fire separates the good from the evil
Fire is what makes precious metals pure.
Which, O Dictator, do you prefer:
To step aside, or to unleash a civil war?
My son, call it a People’s Olympics,
And know that it is the best who is left standing,
In the finals, you can clearly recognize the strong and pure.
Does anyone ever know who the winner is before the games begin?
Dictator, which do you prefer:
To go or to starve your people?
My son, go starve yourselves and then wake up.
There is so much flab in your bodies—what are you going to do with it?
4. What Comes From a Cop
Boxes of perfected fear.
We thought they were divine creatures come to crush us
as native Americans first looked at horses.
We thought death itself sprang from them.
Went up in flames
And the policeman inside struggled against the tongues of fire
Fought against fear.
When we rescued him,
He joined the rebellion.
5. He Thought We Were Going to Kill Him
Central security policeman
Peasant who came straight from the village
To fire tear gas at revolutionaries.
When we grabbed him,
He thought we were going to kill him
And cried like a child,
I want my brother. He’s over there
In that burning armored car.
We took him by the hand
To his brother—the very one from the last poem.
He’d taken off his black vest,
And was sitting on the ground with the revolutionaries.
6. What Is to Be Done, Now?
What shall we do, now that freedom has dawned over Midan Tahrir?
It would be senseless to go back home,
To tell tales of the many victories won by the people.
We will tell the stories often,
And listeners will ask us and ask us to repeat them.
In our hearts we might wish that the Dictator had persisted in his stubbornness
that we had remained in Midan Tahrir forever…
churning out hurried placards and posters
sharing food with one another
sharing slogans of freedom.
We desire, each one of us, to go on talking about ourselves without end.
We dream of sitting,
all of us together,
on the ground,
singing ballads about our country
on cold nights
while the tanks protect us.