Four Poems by Alaa Hassanien from The Love That Doubles Loneliness

4 February, 2024,
Reading Time :12 minutes
Every day settings, the predictability of the body and the ancient, raw emotions of modern romance are conveyed in Alaa Hassanien’s Arabic collection, The Love That Doubles Loneliness.

 

Alaa Hassanien

Translated from the Arabic by Salma Moustafa Khalil

 

It’s Just Blood

 

Somehow
This blood on white tissues
Blood that flowed amply between my thighs
Forming stains on the tiles;
It was meant to be a child.

I told myself: It’s Just Blood
A simple thing,
Like a paper cut. 

I imagined a child with thick brows
Emerging from a spot on the tiles
and stumbling into the hallway.

I don’t think about the world
And I don’t care for children
When they laugh loudly
I wish they’d be quiet
When they roam around asking for money
I wish they’d go away
And I’d finally stopped seeing myself
In every depressed child.

I drank up many years
To quickly escape my childhood
I drank almost daily
So that I can laugh
I welcomed the hand asking for a dance
For love is beautiful
And happy
Love is a child. 

I closed my eyes
And with a rolled banknote
Inhaled white dust …
Then was silent for a whole night
Simply breathing
Made me euphoric.

I knew about the child inside me
But thought,
As I drank the wine straight from the bottle:
I want him dead.

The next morning
I swallowed a smuggled pill on the metro
And thought: He’ll die on the street
He’ll be a dead child, a beautiful child. 

I smoked a full pack of cigarettes
And when I started feeling ill
My friends said I was depressing them.
I apologized quickly and spent two hours in the public bathroom.
The blood might never stop. 

My child flowed, blood, drugs, alcohol and nicotine
I know I didn’t feel a thing
And hardly suffered …

But I thought
As I washed the blood off the tiles
That he would’ve been a human
And that I carry inside my body
A chest full of children
Children with thick brows
And colored eyes
And dark skin.

I went out and roamed in the midst of cars
The world outside me is beyond me
The world inside me is beyond me.

My friends came to pull me away
They said I’m depressing myself
As I dug my hand into my coat pocket
A child in a plastic bag.

They also said life is beautiful
And I am young
Someone mumbled about a good therapist
And held my arm 

As I cried
Digging my other hand into my pocket
Shaking the hand of a tiny child
I made up my mind, he would come dead.

 


Being a poet?
It’s something you talk about
in the same way that you describe your disorder —Alaa Hassanien


Awaiting A Cloud

 

Every few minutes
The waiter asks me
If I’m waiting for someone
I say: Yes.
He takes his hands off the chair
and leaves 

Before I can explain
That I await a cloud
Or a giant drop of water
A purple fox
Or the autumn of the year 2020.

He leaves
Before I can tell him:
Give the chair to whoever needs it
For the cloud can sit anywhere
And the fox can rest in my arms
Or at my feet
The giant drop
Can land right on my head
And hide me from this crowd
It can melt
And I with it
In plain sight
And no one would notice. 

 


 

 


 

Love Visits Daily

 

I fall in love like a pebble drops into the water
Lightly, deeply, powerfully
I belong to the other,
Like a flying paper bag
Seeking a branch to grab on to. 

Anyone can be my lover
I replace one face with another
Admire their bodies
Trace their tattoos with my fingers
Kiss the scars on their wrists
And devour the stories of how they got them.

You lay next to me once
As silence crawled up the walls
The cold air filled me with love for you,
But I think I first felt it
When you bumped into me in the queue …

Three years have passed
I loved once or twice
Or perhaps for fleeting moments
Love visits daily
Drops by in the morning, like the milkman
Sometimes I open up
Other times I forget to.

You loved me, perhaps for a moment
When you embraced me
And stayed up all night
Admiring my face.

But morning always comes
And though you said
You’ve loved me since ever,
I know only love that ends
Once the sun comes up.

My kitten disturbed our sleep
She kept scratching your back
Waking you every time you dozed off.
You told me she’s now jealous
That I’m sleeping next to you
And I always push her away whenever she comes close.

The thing about cats is they easily fall sick
And often, they die once they’re born
Other times
If they grow legs
Jump high and learn to cuddle
Then death season
Comes with the cold …

I close the window in the face of the cold air
I think of the poor kitten
Sleeping at our feet.

This scene resembles
Our raw love
That I cradled
And coddled
Hoping it would survive
With you sharing my bed
Watching our dying kitten from afar
Perhaps you wish her dead. 

I adored your face wet
The purple bar of soap
Washing my kisses off your body
Bit by bit
Love flowed
With the water down the drain … 

With the pink towel
I helped dry your body
I inspected it
A body I never touched
A body that doesn’t recognize me.

You left quickly
Said you couldn’t sleep
Except in your bed
Your friends are waiting
Your life is full …

You say you came for me
That you’ve loved me since ever
Secretly watched me for years
Why, then, do I see in your eyes the look of a thief?
Why, as you descended the stairs
Did I feel the shiver of deceit
As if you stole something from me
Something I didn’t realize could be stolen.

I felt something disappear
Searched and searched
Inspected every room
Lifted the sheets off the bed
Lifted the bed off the floor
I even tried to pull out the tiles …
What could have disappeared
In that time? 

I was taken over by pain
Needles poked my heart
I didn’t know where it came from,
I started to feel your touch again
As though a layer of my skin
Now belonged to you … 

I recalled your voice, your tone
I sensed deception wave with both hands
And mockery rest on its belly
My rushed laughter at your words
Was in response to deceit,

I kept you anyways
Took you to my home
Shared with you the same sheets,
Because I was sad
And lonely
Something in my heart was dead.

We both knew what we shared was a lie
We were co-conspirators
Perhaps I only accepted this later
To find solace in the face of betrayal
To be able to say, I too stole from you
Intimate moments 

And repeated ecstasy that I had missed
And a long deep nightly embrace
A beautiful fleeting love story
I hoped would last years
Or months, or weeks, or mere days …

But love for me
Ends with the sunrise. 

People come, one after another
And quickly leave.

I attract a kind of lovers
Once they kiss me
They feel like they’ve stolen something
And need to run away. 

Though I give them that which they steal
I gift it to them
Exchange it with what they have to give
I tell them that life is simple
And we can share love and sadness
And the bed. 

But they don’t believe a woman could desire
Could truly want
To give and to take
To give what she has for what they have … 

They got used to stealing love
Even if it was laid in front of them for free
Even if they were gifted it
Even if they were flooded by it
They got used to hide to kiss
And to lie
So they would be kissed back
And if someone gifts them their heart
Like I did with you
They hide it or lose it
Then spend eternity
Searching for it
Chasing it
Stealing it
Quickly chewing it
They will swallow love and choke on it
They will throw up on the other
Then swiftly make their escape
Like you did
Like a thief
Who one day
Stole my purse.

 


 

Your Dogs Came and Hovered

 

I would look at you and Fairuz would whisper through my mind:
“You are not my beloved, neither have we grown together”
I wondered what my mind was trying to tell me
My face wrinkled as I touched your face and said
“Darling”
You smiled your half-hearted smile and moved your face away
I moved my eyes away 

I look out the broken window and at the branches that crawled in through the crack
At the leaves that fill the ceiling
I remember the first time I came into your house
It felt like a desolate cave
My heart kept sobbing, demanding to leave 

I suffocated the sobs under a pillow of fog
And let you sew my legs to the ground
And my arms to the air
I looked at the metal gate
And it looked at me
I thought to myself:
I chose to stay
And can leave any time

I used this line with my friends whenever they tried to pull me away
Once I told my friend arrogantly
“Never you mind,
I am happy, and even if I’m not
I can leave any time” 

She said
“Leave then,”

I felt ice cubes fill my mouth
I tried to retreat:
“I don’t want to
At least not today” 

She said:
“If you don’t get out now, you never will”
I broke down crying as I rummaged through the laundry for my clothes
I remember not wanting to mix our clothes in the hamper
Refused to put my toothbrush with yours in the cup
To give myself the illusion that I am about to leave 

But many mornings went by
I forgot what my life was like without you
Forgot how to pass a drink to a friend
Without it going through you
How to come into the house before you step in first 

I even forgot how to get up during the night
Open the fridge and devour its contents
I am now on a diet
I don’t remember when I’d committed to a diet 

When did I give up my evening walks
How did I stop noticing the moon
Until you point up and say:
“Look,
It’s a full moon” 

I look up
Even the moon
Is at the tips of your fingers. 

My friend said:
“Get out!”
I cried and said:
“Please, don’t make me do it.”
I separated my clothes from yours
Stuffed my things into plastic bags
I tried to open the washing machine mid-cycle and grabbed my clothes
Dripping water all over the floor
I nervously watched the time as I raced to finish before you returned from work
A voice inside me said:
“You won’t make it.”

I looked at the hookah I’d just finished preparing
The coal sizzling and bright
I couldn’t enjoy the afternoon
I ordered an Uber and expected to find the keys in their place
But the doors were locked and the driver won’t stop calling.

I told myself
“If he cancels the trip, I will definitely rot in this cave.”

I sat on the couch and fought off my tears
All they said was true then
I am with a monster whose fangs I cannot see.

My head kept repeating the slogan: “I am the next victim”
It trended on Twitter a few days ago
I refused to repeat it or write it
I said to myself:
“It can never happen to me.”

I thought of all the murdered women
All those who died wearing the gowns of love
I remembered as you arrogantly spoke about them
Or perhaps about me
Fairuz started singing again
“You are not my beloved, neither have we grown together
Our strange story, is ashes in the air”
I screamed into the void, to silence the annoying sound
I forced my eyes to open as wide as they could
To stop your cold smile from lurking through my head.

I started to remember how you spoon-fed me your poison
How did you erase my body?
Every touch was lovely and disgusting
Every kiss told me:
You are beautiful and filthy
Every look told me:
Don’t be this way
Or that way
Or that way either.

This is gorgeous, but won’t suit you
This nail polish would be pretty if it were only a little lighter
Your skin is beautiful but have you considered a tan
If only your eyes were hazel and your hair straight
Everything you said with your mouth
Or with your eyes started to float in the air.
Your dogs came and hovered
Too scared to come close
Too scared to move away
Like I was with you
Too scared to go in
Too scared to go out
But how could all this fear hide in my pores without me feeling it?

How did I lose sense of my body?
How did I forget that I once felt pleasure?
How did I forget to desire, to feel joy?
How did I come so far from myself?
When did this chasm happen, between me and me? 

I spotted the keys on the table
And the flying plates stopped breaking in the air
My friends called:
“Are you ok?”
I answered:
“Now I am,
You don’t have to come to the location I sent you.”

I found the driver waiting
I started handing him the plastic bags to put in the car
I thought of the girl who was here before me
What made her leave all her clothes in the plastic bags?
And her brand-new leather shoes
And shampoo bottle
And toothbrush.
I asked myself
Why didn’t I think of this before?
I thought of the girls who left this place with the clothes on their backs
What would make a woman leave behind brand-new shoes?

For the first time, I felt empathy for that girl
Whose name he intentionally mistook for mine
He intended to constantly put me in competition with a stranger
Often I would laugh it off
Tell him:
I know what you’re trying to do
I won’t be dragged into it.

With time, I let my guard down
He disarmed me like a surrendered soldier
And my body floated with the current
And my brain grew astray
My heart craved the dose of safety to silence the fear.

The driver asked me
“Are you ok?”
I cried the whole way home
As his smell snuck up on me
I felt sad that I left
Before I could make dinner.

I thought of him
What will he eat? 

My friends tried to talk to me
To make me see him as a monster and not a scared child
I told them:
“His mother is always manipulating him”
They said:
“That is what he did to you”
But what I saw was that he sought comfort in me
Sought safety in me
Perhaps he could be vile sometimes
But that’s because he worried I’d leave him,
And here I have left him
At a difficult time
His mother is on his case these days
And his weed just ran out
I was the balm to all his woes, the killer of all his pain.

But why do I feel his pain in my heart?
Why has he sucked out all my serenity and injected me full with fear?
Why do I repeat mistakes over and over and over again?

I am afraid, but I love him
Have I erased all my pictures from his phone?
What will he do when he gets home and does not find me? 

I wave for the driver to turn around
I want to go back
Can we turn back time and forget what happened? 

But then a small part of me
Untainted by his poison
Led me home
Sat me on my bed
And I slowly reclaimed my life
I saw myself sat there
Full of laughter and ambition 

I looked in the mirror and saw a woman I didn’t recognize
They cried together
And then I realized
He did not notice my absence
He did not ask how
Or why … 

Perhaps he was relieved
The other day
He came home and his mouth tasted of another woman
I hope she knew to get away
Even if she left behind her clothes in a plastic bag.

I am afraid
And sometimes, I love you …

 

Poet Alaa Hassanien was born in Saudi Arabia, in 1996, to Egyptian parents. At 22 she moved to Egypt where she graduated from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts. She currently resides in France. Her poetry collections include He Emerges Trembling from His Depths (The Mediterranean, 2018), The Completely New Testament (Takween, 2019), The Love That Doubles Loneliness (Waziz, 2019), and a short story collection entitled Tales of Boredom (The Egyptian General Authority For the Book, 2021). In 2015, she won the UNESCO Prize for Classical Poetry. She works in journalism and filmmaking.

Salma Moustafa Khalil is an Egyptian translator and social and political researcher based in London. Her translation and research work is focused on gender and minority issues, both in the Arabic-speaking world and among the diaspora across Europe. She is a research associate at the University of Birmingham and the University of Pennsylvania and translator at the Middle East Centre, LSE. Her literary work and interests are aligned with her academic research, where she focuses on empowering the voices of young Arabs everywhere through editorial guidance and translation.

AlienationArab women's bodiesDomestic abuseEgyptemotionlonelinessloveobsessionpoetry

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