Home: New Arabic Poems in Translation

11 October, 2023
The folks at Two Lines Press conceived of a volume of Arabic poetry in translation that wouldn’t be so much about the usual tropes of war and exile, but about the rest of life…


The bilingual poems in Home are published by Two Lines Press.

“Evoking the sights, sounds, and tastes of contemporary life, the poets in Home explore the intimate world of everyday life, its agonies and delights. A glass shatters in a neighbor’s sink followed by the stomping of ‘little feet’; a woman falls asleep on the shoulder of a man she doesn’t know on an airplane; and a man passes his time smoking alone in a café, observing the charge of activity all around him. The worlds these poets traverse are not devoid of politics, wars, and global migrations, and yet by taking the minutiae of everyday life as their subject they remind us of the need to periodically turn inward and find meaning in the specific and deeply personal.”

Featuring work by Iman Mersal (Egypt), Samer Abu Hawwash (Palestine), Ines Abassi (Tunisia), Fadhil al-Azzawi (Iraq) and others, this second book in the Two Lines “Calico Series” introduces readers to contemporary voices from across the Arabic-speaking world that are underrepresented in the United States. Translated into English by some of today’s leading Arabic translators, these poems are presented alongside their Arabic originals in a bilingual collection that celebrates language.

From Iman Mersal (Egypt)

Translated by Robin Moger



كنت أظن أن هناكَ شراً كثيراً في العالم

فرغم أنني أكثر أصدقائي حناناً، لم أر وردةً على مائدة

إلا وطحنت طرْفها بين الإبهامِ والسبّابة

.لأتأكّد أنها ليست من البلاستيك


ًمؤخراً بدأت أشك في وجود الشرّ أصلا

كأنّ الأذى كله يكون قد حدث بالفعل

في اللحظة التي نتأكد فيها

.أن الكائنات التي أدميْنها كانت حقيقية



There must be so much evil in the world,
I’d thought. You see,
Though I’m the gentlest of my friends,
I never saw a rose upon a table
Without crushing the petal’s edge,
Thumb and finger making sure
It wasn’t plastic.

Lately, I’ve come to doubt that evil is at all
Like all the harm already has been done
That instant when we see for sure
What we make bleed is real.

Ines Abassi (Tunisia)

Translated by Koen De Cuyper & Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg


.إلى ج.ف


الليلُ لنا

والليل نهرٌ نعبرُه

عاشقان غريبان نحنُ

كلما تشابكت أصابعنا، افترقنا

يفصل بيننا الوقت والبحر الأبيض المتوسّط

ولا قارب للعبور سوى الحب


،آخر ليلة قبل الرحيل

لم نتكلم

ولا حتى بلغة الأصابع

،آخر ليلة

تقاسمنا في صمت سيجارا كوبيا

بينما غلفتنا رائحة الخريف

كانت الحرارة تسع درجات

وحرارةُ قلبي كانت بحرارة بركان

ّتذوقت عسل الكستناء على شفتي

تذوقت فانيليا “الروم” على شفتيك


for JF

the night is ours
the night is a river we cross
two strange lovers
when our fingers interlaced, we parted ways
we are separated by time and the Mediterranean
no boat to cross it but love

the last night before leaving
we didn’t speak
not even the language of fingers
that last night
we shared a Cuban cigar in silence
as the odor of autumn enveloped us
it was nine degrees out
but my heart was a volcano
my lips tasted of chestnut honey
and yours of vanilla rum


،آخر ليلة

رقصنا ببطء وصمت في الشرفة

بينما انهمر المطرُ فوقنا

ُخفيفا وناعما مثل الحزن… كان المطر

،آخر ليلة قبل الرحيل

ًلم نتكلم كثيرا


وكلما تكلمت

علقت لغتي على شفتيك

أرسم لك في الهواء الحروف

فَتُدهشك الشدّة والضمّة والحروف المنقطة

العين”حرفٌ مُدور يعلق في حلقك”

.فتضمّني إليك ونسكت

آخر ليلة

كان الليل نهرا

لم أرَ وجهي في عتمة ماءه

لفنا الليل

برائحة الأرض إذْ يُبلّلها المطر

برائحة الرغبة

ّإذ ترتفع في ليل الريف الفرنسي


that last night
we slow danced on the balcony in silence
as it rained down on us
rain as light and soft as sorrow
that last night before leaving
we barely spoke

but when you did
my language hung on your lips
I traced the letters in the air for you
the shadda, the damma, and the dotted letters startled you
the ‘ayn is a rounded letter that lingers in your throat
I embraced you in silence

that last night
night became a river
I couldn’t make out my face in the darkness of the water the night wrapped us up
in the smell of earth wet from the rain and the smell of desire
that rose in the darkness of the French countryside


كل مرّة

ترتفع رائحتنا… رائحة رغبتنا




قبل الليلة الأخيرة عبرنا معا طرقات العنب



…نحو مدينة بلون النبيذ

بوردو”… مدينة حبنا”

بوردو مثل حبنا

مثل زھرة برتقال متفتحة

نحن العاشقان الذين التقيا خلف الشاشات

وتبادلا “الرسائل الالكترونية” بصبر

وحين التقينا أخيرا

،أيقظنا معا بضع صباحات بصفير آلة القهوة

،وختمنا ليلنا بأغنية المطر والعسل و”الروم” والسيجار

أنت العاشق الذي

يسقط منك حرف الحاء

…كلما قلت أحبك


:ويتشكل خاءا

“تُكرر: “أخبكِ

مرّة بعد مرّة

بينما يمتد الليلُ فوقنا مثل دانتيلا سوداء

لتتنهد قائلا: “العربية لغة صعبة

“لكنني ‘أخبك’ يا امرأتي العربيّة

every time
this fragrance of ours fills the air, the odor of our desire
before that last night we walked through vineyards
sloping toward
Bordeaux, a city the color of wine
the city of our love
like an orange flower in bloom
we are lovers who meet behind screens
sending endless emails
and when we finally met
the whistling coffee pot woke us up
and we fell asleep to songs, rain, honey, rum, and cigars you are the lover
who drops the letter ha
every time you say uhibuki, I love you

it comes out as a kha
you repeated ukhibuki
over and over
while the night stretched out above us like black lace
you sighed and said Arabic is a difficult language

أتطلع عبر النافذة

…لسنا معا

مرّة أخرى

يوم آخر يفصلنا

وبحر أبيض متوسّط، يفصلنا

بينما دانتيلا الليل تعرشُ على جسدي

.برغبة وحنين


but ukhibuki, my Arab love

I glance out the window we’re not together
and once again
another day separates us
the Mediterranean separates us
as the lace of night drapes my body
with aching desire

Ashjan Hendi (Saudi Arabia)

Translated by Moneera Al-Ghadeer

في أواخر ديسمبر

لا تعشق حتى الثمالة؛

فهذه آخر زجاجة حب

:على طاولة هذا العام

،أعد الثمالة إلى الكأس

،والكأس إلى الزجاجة

،والزجاجة إلى العنب

،والعنب إلى الكرم

،والعشق إلى العاشق

،وعقارب الزمن إلى ساعة الحائط

أدر كرسيك الأوحد

،عكس عقارب الساعة

.ثم أعد ترتيب الطاولة

End of December

Refrain from being drunk
in love. Don’t drink
love’s last bottle
from this year’s table.
Return the dregs to your glass,
the glass back to full bottle.
Return the bottle to its grapes,
the grapes to the vineyard,
love back to its lover.
Return Time’s movement
and Time’s dial
back to the clock on the wall.
Turn your lone chair counterclockwise,
then reset the table.

About the Poets

Iman Mersal is among the most celebrated contemporary poets in the Arab world, emerging from the Egyptian avant-garde movement of the 1990s. She is the author of four collections of verse and three works of prose, including How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts, a hybrid of cultural criticism and personal memoir. Her poetry and nonfiction work interrogate and reconstruct memory, identity, and personal history.

Ines Abassi is a Tunisian writer. She has published three volumes of poetry and two collections of short stories. Her first novel appeared in 2017. From 2014 to 2016, Abassi served as the executive publisher of Dar Anahla Saghira. Her work has been translated into English, Danish, French, Korean, and Swedish.

Ashjan Hendi is a poet and scholar from Saudi Arabia. She received her PhD in Arabic literature from SOAS, University of London. Her poetry is lyrical with linguistic and figurative innovations. She received a number of poetry awards and has been translated into different languages.

About the Translators

Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic into English. His translations of prose and poetry have appeared in The White Review, Tentacular, Asymptote, and The Washington Square Review, among others. He has translated several novels and prose works into English including Youssef Rakha’s The Crocodiles and Iman Mersal’s How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts. His translation of Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety was awarded the 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.

Koen De Cuyper earned an MA in translation from the University of Leuven, during which time he spent a year in residence at the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech. He currently lives and works in Rabat where he is the scientific information specialist at the Netherlands Institute in Morocco (NIMAR).

Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg holds an MA in francophone world studies and an MFA in literary translation, both from the University of Iowa. Her translations from the French and the Arabic have appeared in Anomaly, Asymptote, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Poet Lore, Two Lines, and elsewhere. Nuernberg lives in Morocco, where she serves as an editor-at-large for Asymptote and works as a translator for film and TV. Her co-translation of Raphaël Confiant’s Madam St. Clair, Queen of Harlem was published by Diálogos in January 2020.

Moneera Al-Ghadeer is the author of Desert Voices: Bedouin Women’s Poetry in Saudi Arabia (I.B. Tauris, 2009) as well as many articles, book chapters, and translations. She received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to become a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Additionally, she was a visiting professor of comparative literature in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University and a Shawwaf Visiting Professor at Harvard University.


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