The online magazine Words Without Borders ‘promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature’ says the site’s About Us page.
I say head over to WWB (@wwborders) if you love international and translated fiction or if you are now embarking on a discovery quest. Head over there if , like me, short stories are your thing. Head over there if you are writer. Just go read Words Without Borders, period! Thank you. You can thank me later.
WWB’s monthlies, all online for free, are publications of short stories and poetry from international writers and are complied under themes. I selected today’s poem from the January 2006 issue, Words Cannot Be Weighed: Literature From Egypt.
I feature a North African poet for today’s Another 21 Days/21 Poems.
According WWB, the poet Tamer Fathy was only 24 when he published, Yesterday I Lost A Button, his debut collection of poetry in 2005. What a talent, what a title!
A dazzling poem. I want to wear it, cover myself in and out of it. Somehow too, its deceptive simplicity echoes the poetry of Pablo Neruda.
When Clothes Were Small
Neither thread had a desire to couple
but they were forced
and out of that union
fabrics were born to a traditional, arranged marriage
the cutting blade’s coldness
gives me my body
(often we are offered our bodies to know pain)
so let this be your face
and this your name
and these your arms
and the tag on the back
has your size
and washing instructions
the darkness lit up a match
and closed in on my face
which colors become me
but instead it selected
the color of solitude . . .
The needles’ sting
offers me life
with all its minor details
and a cast of animated characters
(later this cast will read Marquez, Lorca,
and Sonallah Ibrahim)
as it sews my body
and embroiders my sorrow
and makes me sharpen my scream.
The smell of winter
was what I knew first
when I took my first breath of air.
This is how the good tailor fashioned us
to become proper clothes
and carefully folded.
But the white shirt
chose its lisp
its stuttering words
its murmur which gives things their names
perhaps the shirt hates
the taste of tomatoes
and the taste of milk
and the request to buy bread in the morning
school uniforms startle
at the whiteness of chalk
the innocence of questions
they sob under the teacher’s cane
intimates of the gray school bag
which hides dreams in small pockets
and swallows up text books
the trousers that ran in hide-and-seek
did not realize the time will come
when they would be changed to a pair of tiny shorts
or a piece of cloth
with which a mother would bandage the finger of her child
but they continued running
as if hope waited on the other side.
Marvelous are things in their fleeting vision.
(You are running, may you always run)
this is what the good tailor said
– by Tamer Fathy
Source: Words Without Borders
Bonus: The poem (theme was War) I featured in the 21 Days/ 21 Poems for the 2011 Celebration – Some People by Wislawa Szymborska