From Ahdaf Soueif, Sandpiper (1997, Bloomsbury):

From Ahdaf Soueif, Sandpiper
(1997, Bloomsbury):
Now, when I walk to the sea, to the edge of this
continent where I live, where I almost died,
where I wait for my daughter to grow away from
me, I see different things from those I saw that
summer six years ago. The last of the foam is
swallowed bubbling into the sand, to sink down
and rejoin the sea at an invisible subterranean
level. With each ebb of green water the sand
loses part of itself to the sea, with each flow
another part is flung back to be reclaimed once
again by the beach.
That narrow stretch of sand knows nothing in the
world better than it does the white waves that whip
it, caress it, collapse into it, vanish into it. The white
foam knows nothing better than those sands which
wait for it, rise to it and suck it in. But what do the
waves know of the massed, hot, still sands of the
desert just twenty, no, ten feet beyond the scalloped
edge? And what does the beach know of the depths,
the cold, the currents just there, there – do you see
it? – where the water turns a deeper blue. (Soueif,
Sandpiper, p. 36)
From Iain Chambers, Mediterranean Crossings (2008,
Duke University Press):
The Mediterranean becomes the sight for an
experiment in a different form of history writing;
an experiment in language and representation
where it becomes possible to engage with the
‘outside of the history of modernity’ through
points of resistance and refusal that continually
relay us elsewhere, and lead to an inevitable
‘questioning of history as status quo.
From Iain Chambers, Minority Mediterraneans, (2013):
If the Mediterranean is overwhelmingly claimed as the
site of the ‘origins’ of Western culture, at the same time
there is an increasing reluctance to be associated with its
present‐day realities. Somehow, in order to be modern the
existing Mediterranean has to be repudiated. Sun‐lit sloth,
civic chaos and corruption, represent the distasteful
under‐belly of a heritage that the incisive management of
modernity north of the Alps and along the Atlantic shore
has apparently overcome. Reduced to the leisurely pace of
a time‐out in which to entertain the senses with food,
wine, sea, sun and antiquated cultures, the rationality of
modernity is apparently exercised elsewhere.
However, if this is the repressed side of Occidental modernity
it can never really be kept at a distance; it is always destined to
return and disturb the procedures of a purified rationality.
So, apart from signalling a banal escape to pleasure, the
Mediterranean as a repressed alterity within modernity can
also be re‐routed into a further, and altogether more disturbing,
groove. As a line of flight into another unauthorised critical
space, the present and past histories of the Mediterranean
propose a radical revaluation of the very processes and powers
that have led to its contemporary subordination,
marginalisation and definition. Rather than simply clinging to
some purported authenticity being threatened by modernity,
there lies the altogether more complex issue of the latter being
worked out, lived and proposed in transit and translation.
(Chambers, Minority Mediterraneans)
From Laila Lalami, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
(2005, Harvest):
Fourteen kilometers. Murad has pondered that number
hundreds of times in the last year, trying to decide
whether the risk was worth it. Some days he told himself
that the distance was nothing, a brief inconvenience, that
the crossing would take as little as thirty minutes if the
weather was good. He spent hours thinking about what he
would do once he was on the other side, imagining the
job, the car, the house. Other days he could think only
about the coast guards, the ice-cold water, the money he’d
have to borrow, and he wondered how fourteen kilometers
could separate not just two countries but two universes.
(p. 1)
From Laila Lalami, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
(2005, Harvest):
He looks at the Spanish coastline, closer with every
breath. The waves are inky black, except for hints of
foam here and there, glistening white under the
moon, like tombstones in a dark cemetery. Murad
can make out the town where they’re headed. Tarifa.
The mainland point of the Moorish invasion in 711.
Murad used to regale tourists with anecdotes about
how Tariq Ibn Ziyad had led a powerful Moor army
across the Straits and, upon landing in Gibraltar,
ordered all the boats burned. He’d told his soldiers
that they could march forth and defeat the enemy or
turn back and die a coward’s death.
The men had followed their general, topped the
Visigoths, and established an empire that ruled
over Spain for more than seven hundred years.
Little did they know that we’d be back, Murad
thinks. Only instead of a fleet, here we are in an
inflatable boat – not just Moors, but a motley
mix of people from the ex-colonies, without guns
or armor, without a charismatic leader.
(Lalami, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits,
pp. 2-3)
From Iain Chambers, Meritime Criticism
(2010, in Insights):
Insisting on the centrality of the sea and ocean space
to the enterprise of modernity promotes the adoption
of a more fluid cartography. The presumed stability
of the historical archive, together with its associated
‘facts,’ and the cultural identifications proposed in
territorial museums, academic syllabuses and
political understandings, can all be set to float:
susceptible to drift, unplanned contacts, even
(pp. 2-3)
From Ahdaf Soueif, In the Eye of the Sun,
(1992, Bloomsbury):
You cannot disclaim responsibility for my existence,
nor for my being here – beside your river – today.
But I haven’t come to you only to take, I haven’t
come to you empty-handed: I bring you poetry as
great as yours but in another tongue, I bring you
black eyes and golden skin and curly hair, I bring
you Islam and Luxor and Alexandria and lutes and
tambourines and date-palms and silk rugs and
sunshine and incense and voluptuous ways... [...] Or
is it not ridiculous? Ridiculous and naive.
Is it a sinister, insidious colonialism implanted in
her very soul; a form of colonialism that no
rebellion can mitigate and no treaty bring to an end?
What would happen to her if – as in 1956 – the old
lion shook himself awake, growled, and stretched a
paw – its claws old and yellow but still sharp –
towards Egypt, Syria, or Iraq, or any other Arab
country? How would she feel then standing here
among his trappings? Asya turns again to the
Thames. A river is a river is a river: water and fish –
no, probably not fish, it looks pretty dirty – what,
then? Bodies.
(Soueif, In the Eye of the Sun, p. 512)
From Pauline Kaldas, “Home” (in The Poetry of Arab
Women, ed. by N. Handal, 2005, Interlink):
The world map
colored yellow and green
draws a straight line from Massachussetts to Egypt.
Homesick for the streets
filthy with the litter of people, overfilled so you
look to put your next step down;
bare feet and galabiyas pinch
you into a spot tighter
than a net full of fish,
drivers bound out
of their hit cars
to battle in the streets
and cause a jam as mysterious
as the building of the pyramids...
display their baklava and basboosa
glistening with syrup
browned like the people who make them,
women, hair and hands henna red
their eyes, khol-lined and daring.
(Kaldas, “Home”)
From Nathalie Handal, “Amrika”
(in The Lives of Rain, 2005, Intelink)
New England
quiet echoes raindrops autumn leaves
an alley of tiny butterflies
the difference between where we are from
and where we now live.
The years behind a broken door
My father’s grief –
I understand nothing –
Only later do I hear the Arabic
in his footsteps...
I walk through Fenway Park, through
streets with names that escape me,
their stories of sea
their cries for a stranger’s grief.
I understand – no one can bear partings...
(Handal, Lives of Rain, pp. 60-61)
I wear my jeans, tennis shoes,
walk Broadway, pass Columbia,
read Said and Twain,
wonder why we are obsessed
with difference,
our need to change the other?
I wait for the noise to stop
but it never does
so I go to the tip of the Hudson River
recite a verse by Ibn Arabi
and between subway rides,
to that place that I now call home,
listen to Abdel Halim and Nina Simone
hunt for the small things
I have lost inside of myself –
and at the corner of Bleeker and Mercer
through a window with faded Arabic letters
see a New York debke...
It is later than it was a while ago
and I haven’t moved a bit,
my voices still breaking into tiny pieces
when I introduce myself to someone new
and imagine I have found my way home.
(Handal, Lives of Rain, p. 64)
From Etel Adnan, The Indian Never Had
a Horse (1985):
from the persistent Mediterranean
to the persistent Pacific
we cut roads with our feet
share baggage and
running always one second
ahead of the running of
(p. 65)
From Mohja Kahf, “Hijab Scene #5” (E-mails from
Scheherazade, 2003, University Press of Florida):
“Assalam-O-alaikum, sister”
“Assalam-O-alaikum, ma’am”
“Assalam-O-alaikum” at the mailbox
“Assalam-O-alaikum” by the bus stop
When you’re wearing hijab, Black men
you don’t even know materialize
all over Hub City
like an army of chivalry,
opening doors, springing
into gallantry.
Drop the scarf, and (if you’re light)
you suddenly pass (lonely) for white.
From Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin
(2010, Bloomsbury):
Feelings of inadequacy marked my first months
in America. I floundered in that open-minded
world, trying to fit in. But my foreignness
showed in my brown skin and accent.
Statelessness clung to me like a bad perfume and
the airplane highjackings of the seventies trailed
my Arabic surname.
(p. 169)
The divide could not have been greater, nor
could it be bridged. That's how it was. Palestine
would just rise up from my bones into the center
of my new life, unannounced. In class, at a bar,
strolling through the city. Without warning, the
weeping willows of Rittenhouse Square would
turn into Jenin's fig trees reaching down to offer
me their fruit. It was a persistent pull, living in
the cells of my body, calling me to myself. Then
it would slouch back into latency.
(Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin, p. 175)
From Suheir Hammad, “argela remebrance”
(Born Palestinian, Born Black, 2010, UpSet):
we read futures in search of our past
in coffee grinds and tea leaves
in upturned hands grasping
for prayer
we are a people
name our sons after prophets
daughters after midwifes
eat with upturned hands
plant plastic potted plants
in suffocating apartments
tiny brooklyn style
in memory of the soil once
laid under our nails.
(Hammad, “argela remembrance”, p. 37)
From Laila Lalami,
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits:
After leaving Café La Liberté, Murad headed
back toward the beach. He found a spot near the
Casbah where he could get a view of the
Mediterranean. It was getting dark. In the
distance, car lights from the Spanish side looked
like so many tiny lighthouses, beacons that
warned visitors to keep out. He thought about the
work visas he’d asked for. For the last several
years, the quotas had filled quickly and he’d
been turned down.
He knew, in his heart, that if only he could get a
job, he would make it, he would be successful,
like his sister was today, like his younger
brothers would be someday. His mother wouldn’t
dream of discounting his opinion the way she
did. And Spain was so close, just across the
(Lalami, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, p.
From Sarat Maharaj, “Perfidious Fidelity”
In everyday terms, we see translation as the
business of imperceptibly passing through from
one language to another, not unlike stacking
panes of glass one on top of another, a matter of
sheer transparency. But is it no less about taking
the measure of the untranslatable, about groping
along and clawing at dividing walls, about
floundering in an opaque stickiness?
(p. 28)
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