Hisham BustaniHisham Bustani
"Mirror, Mirror"

Translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes

The actor is on a stage. The stage is a vast wasteland without a trace of shadow.
He throws his voice to the back of the chamber, it bounces back and knocks him down:
the end of the chamber is right in front of his nose.
Wherever he runs and throws sound, walls close in on him at once.

“It’s pointless,” he thought to himself, deciding to step down.
He searched for the stairs but did not find them.
He searched for the curtain, for the wings, for the lighting;
He wandered aimlessly, weeping.
He forgot that the stage is a vast wasteland, unending;
without a trace of shadow.

To Yusef ‘Abd āl-‘Azyz, Yusef Abu Luz, and Tāher Riyādh
The poets, three of them, in a corner at the table of darkness, hurling poems at the opposite wall in The Canary. Contemplating severed sheep heads in Abu Musā’s basement, learning to dance from the footsteps of night’s daughter, reading their elegant words on the trees, dissolving in language.

The poets, three of them, missed the wolves’ train and so sat in the subway station waiting for teeth—now worn, nails—now clipped, and a life that has passed and will not return.

Here she comes, jiggling with pomegranate breasts and two buttocks that try, in vain, to escape.
Here she comes, behind her are many heads:
a head winking with a blinded eye.
a head dribbling a river of drool onto the street.
a head sounding out the letters of a pornographic ode, thinking with as many brain cells as possible of a penis erected in place of the emptiness down below.
Many heads—it matters not what they do,
because the jiggling woman that passed by,
had no head.

The balcony/scandal wants to escape from the building wall.
She whispered to Murid once upon a drunkenness: if only I could fly.

But times have changed,
the poets have died, taking with them the similes and metaphors,
when I passed beneath her, I heard her say:
I will stay this way, suspended in the air,
a witness to your severed wings.

He embraced one, had sex with the other.
He engaged in a furious battle with enemies of the wall.
He spread barbed poetry in the space allocated for his daily sentiments.
He commented on all the speakers: fawningly with the women, sardonically with the men.
He threw around smiles and winks and sadness.
And when he was emptied of all his internal organs,
He closed Facebook,
tripped over his ashtray full of cigarettes,
and dropped into his deep, deep well.

The bald, short man sits in the villa with a swimming pool, rented out for thirty thousand taxpayer dinars, to combat corruption.
The empty chairs around him chant and applaud.
They, too, are bought with taxpayer dinars.

As soon as he opens his dust filled mouth, the glossy walls collapse around him.
To the dying sun behind him, he pays no attention, the sour smell that fills the place does not tickle his nostrils.
His senses were saturated with the rows of empty chairs nodding in agreement at his words.

The intellectual on the hunt,
carried his bow/book,
filled his quiver with arrows/pens,
and went out to poach beautiful women.

On the way, he passed:
the intellectual who lies as easily as he breathes.
the intellectual who is led by a chain around his neck and responds to: sit, dog, sit.
the intellectual who conspires against himself after liquidating everyone around him.
the intellectual who became a theorist after reading an article about Marxism in a newspaper.
the intellectual who wrote the Marxist article in the newspaper (he last read a book thirty years ago)
the intellectual who….
At this point he had enough.
He will not pass through the street of intellectuals after today.
He left them to swim in their vomit,
and plunged into a sea of women.

The birds stand on the wires like ornamental lights.
Beneath their thin legs passes much chatter. The air around them is crowded with much chatter.
“How are the kids?”
“We bought a new car today.”
“Fadi is sick…”
“That man is a catch!”
Blah… blah... blah... blah...
These days there is no space for the chirping of birds in a city tangled in wires and electromagnetic waves. There isn’t even room for them to fly.
And when evening sets in, a current passes below and the birds flash on and off,
pointing with their coloured beaks in the direction of the cellphone store.

The penniless beggar wasn’t able to sell his sad eyes and amputated leg that day.
He rose, came out against the people brandishing his sword, and cut off their legs.

The old, old woman sits on the old tiles.
Her clothes are tattered and her sight is weak.
She is surrounded by many pigeons, in front of her are cans full of corn kernels.
A passing man approaches, places some money in her hand, takes a can and throws its contents in the air—disappearing in a storm of pigeons for a moment—then leaves.
Then comes another, and another, and the old woman shrivels, shrinks as hands stretch out and cans dwindle.
Nobody notices a tear escaping from the corner of her eye, no one cares that she explodes with anger when a beautiful tourist takes her picture.
So she continued to shrivel, shrink.
As day ended, she flew off with her friends to sleep below the bridge, leaving behind her tattered clothes, cans full of corn kernels and multitudes passing through—as they had been—
paying no attention.

searches the ocean floor for sacred oil.
When the suction tube is punctured and water drowns in a sea of petrol,
the executive—sitting in his Armani suit, rocking in his leather chair—decides,
to throw a match on the spill.

It’s what the executive calls: an open-air barbeque.

Nature does not create carbon copies.
Only man
manufactures them,
crams himself inside them,
and walks proud of the ugliness replicating—tediously—on the production line.

You are the star, and no other
You are the mermaid, alone in a desert of water
You are Unity, Eternal, Everlasting; your frown and laughter are one.
You are the Beginning and End of waves of people, stone, universes.

Digital camera: in the photo, the whole world is a background….
You are the star before the sea. You are the star before the forest. You are the star before the wind, the flowers, the tiger crammed in a cage, and mountains of ice.

Nothing matters, the world can be exchanged like a curtain, wilting, breaking…. I do not become forlorn. In the photo, I stand and behind me the corpses of things are embalmed.

Here she comes. Her darling had been waiting, worried, at the coffee-shop table. As she sat down next to him, each of them withdrew a digital camera. They leaned their heads in and smiled for cold eyes looking at them through two cold boxes. The light shone, and each of them went on their way. It was what they called a date. As for the photo—it is: the relationship.

Man became aroused when he watched clouds have sex on the mattress of the sky.
He is the son of water and so, to enjoy the scene,
he fixed a long, long horn on his head and called it: a skyscraper.

The war suddenly stopped, as the location manager yelled: CUUUUUTTT.
The causalities were evacuated, the sharp sounds of ambulances rang out as they transported the injured.
Moments earlier, the director’s voice had come through the earpiece: “commercial break,” then came a barrage of ads for sanitary pads, perfume, cooking oil, and chips. After that, a soft feminine voice: “This war is brought to you live sponsored by….”
… and explosions rang out once more.


Part 2: The Canary is an old hotel in Jabal Luwaibdeh, Amman, where the three poets sat during a night long ago. Abu Musā is a restaurant in Amman that serves sheep’s heads and giblets.

Part 4: The balcony that said “If I only I could fly” is found in the Palestinian poet Murid Barghouti’s poetry collection, The Reason of Beings.

Part 14: As in Western cultural usage (including archaic English), the term “horned” in colloquial Arabic refers to men whose female relatives are unfaithful with their consent. The Arabic term “horn” often refers to men who pimp their female relatives.

Thoraya El-Rayyes

Thoraya El-Rayyes