Three Poems by Mona Kareem

2 May, 2023

Presenting three poems, translated from the Arabic by Sara Elkamel, from her new collection I Will Not Fold These Maps, Mona Kareem (Arabicمنى كريم; born 1987) is a Bedoon writer, translator and literary scholar, born in Kuwait to a stateless family, and this is a theme in her literary work.


Mona Kareem



Journey to the Catacombs of the Heart


I forgot to install an emergency staircase.
I forgot to construct my heart closer to the ground;
another friend has flung herself from the window of my heart.
Can I still grab hold of her white veil; can I save her?

Perhaps she was only half a friend;
with one countenance loving, the other sullen.
I know she cleansed her clothes, daily, of my silly jokes.

I also know how tiny soldiers converted her pillow into a battlefield;
I was cast as a military commander, shelling her dreams.

Who will talk to me now, my friend, of a make-believe lover?

I will leave the cups empty.
For even tea, my friend,
will not rouse you from your death.

I Will Not Fold These Maps is available from the Poetry Translation Centre.





It is yesterday
when Scheherazade sings jazz, and her voice forges a myth
in our household.

This coincides with Africa’s resurrection, where the streets of weariness
invoke a thousand more nights of entombment.

It is yesterday, then, when the smile escapes,
concealing itself among the tears of refugees.

We need music here.
We need it more than trucks of bread.

The moon
is the most secluded of the shrapnel— and the fire dwindles
near the ocean’s snores.

Fragments of death have inhabited me,
just as they’ve inhabited millions at the junction of absence

and night
pulls on his jacket
for an excursion that trims him into a metallic crescent.

The meeting room is locked;
it seems there’s a private party of gods sipping the juice of the land
beneath the battlefield.

We will always have slaps reserved for us, and answers will one day
smile at my mind.

I was war’s leftovers;
that’s how I managed to see the executioner

caressing his whip even as his wife whipped him.

Darkness is sleep’s pillow,
and departure is drenched in sweat; what if we could fasten peace
to the psyche of the executioner?

of autumn
which will shred the suits of trees?


Cities Dying Every Day


The roads are cavernous, ravaged by night
and the drunkards…

I will not fold these maps;
it might dent my country’s nose, prompting a raid of popular pockets for emergency plastic surgery.

Another blood cell treads
along my artery’s narrow bridge— will the Disease Police intercept it?

Spring lies in my left brain, but what of autumn?
It is possible it has divorced me, after inhabiting my entire life?

Inside every tent
is a child who emerges
out of its mother’s desert and into another desert and then another…

leave the task of lung excavation to us. Breathe,
let Narcissus depart your soul.

Tons of dust shroud our veins,
but it can’t compare to the dust that shrouds our smiles.

Many cities die every day;
I myself died
when Sumer decided to surrender the throne.

For the millionth time, Asia dons a coat of wars—
as our lives transform into aging droplets.


This poem was previously published in Modern Poetry in Translation. Poems translated by Sara Elkamel.

Mona Kareem is the author of three poetry collections. Her poetry has been translated into nine languages, and appeared (in English) in: POETRY, Poetry Northwest, Michigan Quarterly, Poetry London, Modern Poetry in Translation, among others. She is a recipient of a 2021 literary grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Kareem holds a PhD in Comparative Literature and works as an assistant professor of Middle East Studies at Washington University St. Louis. Her translations into Arabic include Ashraf Fayadh’s Instructions Within (nominated for a BTBA award), Ra’ad Abdulqadir’s Except for this Unseen Thread, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. She tweets @monakareem.

Sara Elkamel is a poet, journalist and translator based in Cairo. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University, and an MFA in poetry from New York University. Elkamel’s poems have appeared inPOETRY, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Yale Review, and Gulf Coast, among others, and in the anthologies Best New Poets ‘20 & ‘22 and Best of the Net ‘20. She was named the winner of Redivider’s 2021 Blurred Genre Contest and the Tinderbox‘s 2022 Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize. Elkamel’s debut chapbook Field of No Justice was published by the African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books in 2021. She tweets @SaraFarag.

AfricaArabic poetryBedouinloveScheherazadewars

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