Her Name is Fatena Al Ghorra; A Homage

 

It all began from that morning in breakfast room that was a ‘common room’ for writers during my stay at the Iowa House Hotel. I stayed there for about three months as a fellow of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Every year, the International Writing Program hosts almost thirty-four writers from all around the world. Last year it hosted more than forty writers because the program completed its 50th year and was celebrating its long-term association with writers. I was privileged enough to be a part of the 50th anniversary of IWP and hence rewarded by meeting and sharing words with more than forty-three writers.

Coming back to the breakfast room. This was the first morning of my stay in Iowa. After trying to make a room for myself in an alien land I looked around and spotted two women sitting in a not-so-cornered table. I anticipated them to be the fellow participants. I was right. It was her sitting with the Egyptian physician-cum-writer Ghada Al-Absy. They invited me over to join them for the breakfast-discussion which became our morning ritual for those three months. After brief introductory session, we started talking about the literature from Arabic and South-Asian world. This was the first day and I felt a strong bond with her when we started talking about Mahmoud Darwesh and ended our conversation on Forough Farrokkhzad. I felt an urge to hear about her life. So, one night in the first week I asked her out for a walk. It was almost dark and I had a strange feeling that she would refuse. The reason for that feeling could be my experience in Pakistan. In Pakistan it was usually a forbidden thing for women to go out once it was dark. But, to my amazement, she agreed. Hence, we were out exploring Iowa-streets on our own without any guidance, talking fearlessly, laughing and sharing bittersweet phases of our lives with each other. That was the night I discovered that she was the second name of resistance. She had been fighting in her own capacity with the Israel’s occupation of her homeland; Palestine but not through poetry.

Fatena Al Ghorra, born as a Palestinian refugee, participated in the International Writing Program as a Belgian writer. This sentence should be reflective enough to indicate the complexity she has lived through. She lived in Gaza, Palestine, for the major portion of her life and migrated to Egypt, France and finally to Belgium nine years ago when it became almost impossible for her to survive through the politics and the patriarchal setup of the land. In 2016, she was given the status of a Belgian national and hence was sent to the IWP’17 as a Belgian writer of Arab diaspora. Al Ghorra has worked with Aljazeera as a journalist for many years and now she runs her own poetry salon in Belgium. As a close friend and fellow participant, it was quite an experience to witness her fight the idea of identity and the idea of home. In her readings, interviews and panel discussion she would always begin by recalling her affiliation with Palestine but then she would also mention Belgium, at times wilfully and at times half-heartedly. In a panel discussion, titled as “Is my home in my memories, or in my reality?”, which she shared with the writers from Basque, Germany, Kazakhstan and New Zealand, she said “I feel at home even while staying in Belgium when someone speaks to me in Arabic.” Another interesting thing for myself, being a conscious English-speaking-Pakistani, was her pride in her self-taught, grammatically incorrect English. Readers might feel this was something negative but no, it was inspirational. She bluntly owned the fragmented English expression and she would proudly announce that: “I taught myself this English. I did not went to big universities like you.”

One thing which remains an enigma till today is her idea of not utilizing politics or any issue related to Gaza or Palestine in her poetry. I spoke with her in detail about it and she ended the conversation by saying: “I need to do poetry. I need to celebrate beauty and love. Politicians will do their job.” Her poetry celebrates love, life, womanhood and femininity. I was lucky enough to record three of her poems for my YouTube channel. Her work has been translated in more than ten languages. The work celebrates fierce human-energy and womanhood. Her recent poetry collection titled as Orgasm is selectively translated by Ms. Claire Jacobson in English. The work which indicates intense feminine sensibility is created by a woman whose name is Fatena Al Ghorra.

One of her poems titled as “Orgasm” is here for readers’ delight;

“Orgasm”

 

Translated by Claire Jacobson

 

When Death comes for me

I want to prepare for him like a lover for her beloved

Light the house with candles

Down the curtains between the peering eyes and me

Wash my body gently,

coyly

Sweeten it with perfume

Rub it with oil, lightly, subtly

Slip on a nightgown of black lace

And kindle the background music

Anticipating the kiss of life

*****

Like a whore I will readies for him

lighting her apartment in red

Rubs her body with oil

Erasing the memory of men who haven’t been back

Scenting it with a blend of cheap perfumes

Waiting in the doorway

With all her skills and experiences

For the moment he enters

To unzip his trousers and start her work

*****

I will receive Death as should a wife

cleans the house Friday night of the children’s mess

Then takes a shower

Dabs some kohl and pink lipstick

Wears comfortable pajamas

And lies down in the middle of the bed

Readied to do her duty

*****

I will receive Death fully as should a nun

With incense filling the air

The floating scent of calm

That leaves no room for anything else

I will stretch out/ on the altar

Obedient and powerless

And allow delight to drug my limbs with unrelenting slowness

Poised, with no trace of doubt

I will lie down like I never have for a man

Give him what he deserves

****

As a mistress readies for her lover

Waits at the window for his knock

While she chills the wine

prepares the cigarettes and the music

The favorite songs and video clips

That it will make them laugh

until their eyes fill with tears

The light-footed dance      to the beat of delight

Then the fingers start the work,

 slowly,  slowly

Advertisements

After Orgasm

you’d say it doesn’t matter
whatever comes between us
your tender body will haunt mine
but it matters!
whenever a grain separates the two petals of a lotus flower
it matters
which woman eros wants to fuck and at what time
eros! who might’ve a ghost-thing for young men as well
it matters who decides to rescue us from our demons
it matters when a child hides itself in our lap and distracts us
while we struggle with a conversation and fail
it all matters but still it doesn’t matter
whatever comes between us
your tender body will haunt mine

(2)

shouts and screams help
this time
is like other times
when nerves give up
on sanity
insanity is only way out
dying again in the dark
with woes submersed
with burden of bodies
and burden of breaths
submerged.

(3)

life bangs on the walls of existence again
same nauseating love-making
same virgin-wine hallucination
new shadows are mistaken for older ones
it doesn’t get better, it never could
neither between legs nor among nerves

silly poem

disquiet womb of the time expands and gives birth to this moment

i am writing to you now but the moment will travel far away

from the feeling while you read this

my rivers ache to flow out to you

but it will be too late once you realize and come back to embrace them

tobacco burns between my thighs and i sniff at the rising smoke, shut my eyes and start counting your steps

many digits to count upon before i can sense you standing in the front, staring at my coverless thighs, weaving another image,

maybe that of elephant’s erected trunk or swollen penis of a desperate lover, wanting the moment to undo my eyes

wouldn’t it be too late to expect an incredibly potent thing from an infertile moment?

i have been hearing your cries during the nights spent in solitude and despair

i enjoy them. i hear them while i try to carry the weight of my pen and write this to you

i long for your images, dear heart. i long for your voice. i long for you to ask me to pen a silly poem on your spine with the tip of my tongue

i know the feeling will have flown far away when you read this

 

 

Hotel Poetry

Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—
There is no sugar in the promised land.
Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love,
I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?
If home is found on both sides of the globe,
home is of course here—and always a missed land.
The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?)
in Fate’s “Long years ago we made a tryst” land.
Clearly, these men were here only to destroy,
a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.
Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy,
when springtime returns to our dismissed land?
The prisons fill with the cries of children.
Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?
“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”
I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.
A hurricane is born when the wings flutter …
Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?
You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there
though summer had finished in that tourist land.
Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes
when we steal their gods for our atheist land?
Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels
so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.
At the moment the heart turns terrorist,
are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land?

Agha Shahid Ali wrote this ghazal, titled as “Land” for Christopher Merrill. It was published in 2001.
For myself, it remained an unfulfilled dream to meet Agha in person. When I joined the International Writing Program in August, one of the things on my prime agenda was to speak to Chris about his closest friend, Agha Shahid Ali.
Agha Shahid Ali, an underrated Kashmiri-American poet, was introduced to me by a very precious soul. In any way, for South Asians, ghazal remains a significant inspiration. Despite will and effort, due to numerous reasons, I couldn’t record a full-length interview on Agha Shahid Ali, but, of course, I will write in detail about how they transformed each other in this long companionship.

Fortunately, despite all fixed-up meetings, readings and hectic schedule, Chris managed to read three poems to me including a ghazal written in correspondence to the aforementioned ghazal which he, of course, dedicated to Agha Shahid Ali. These poems were recorded in a hotel room hence the title ‘Hotel Poetry’ as it was for previous recordings. The recording is embedded within this post or could be watched on my YouTube Channel i.e., Ramsha Ashraf or could be tracked down from Christopher Merrill’s official website i.e., http://www.christophermerrillbooks.com/

“The Edge of Our World”, Waqas Khwaja and Ramsha

cat sniffing

meeting of lips and noses
bats rip darkness apart and lick roses
tongue scratches upon thorns
bleeds roses of menstrual blood
alight with this infusion
a life hidden beneath breathless blades of grass
torn and turned to provide sap for grass blades
we drink each other’s wounds
sip from cuts
long consigned to forgetfulness
opening up again
uncurl and unwind raw coils and cords
taking the pith and string of rawness
to make of it a shirt to wear
court harmonies

sublimate unities
let them bubble
and spill over the sky’s brim
sketch out its own galaxies
lapping up walls of those bubbles
we wait

for the sky to drizzle us with moments of grace
to drink in their suns

their moons

their planets
their flights of kites and swans
their arches and dips of swallow and dove
their rainbows and ravens
matching flights across the curve of seven colors
lifted and pressed by the wind on our backs
wind of manias and melancholies
squalls dark and thunderous
whirled away with them

to the edge of our world
tipped then beyond
the last boundary
beyond all borders and limits
boundaries which exist

only in minds

and veiled from eyes
physical and imaginary

rent in rags and tatters
we sweep past these ripped rags
past the tattered fringe of the universe
and enter the tunnel of timelessness, again
leaving lines of light far behind
in the curl and curve of passageways
light that tangles with the thread

of deceit and conviction it weaves every day
we take up that tangle

and toss it back into the primal rose
that started it all
with its menstrual red
glowing at its core
scarlet red!
that bulging core
projecting its primal rose
that is

both imputation and the surgence of life
unfolding its protuberant flesh to the world with a gush
unfurling in compliment and tribute
a mute

tribute
i and thou
you and me
merged and renewed
silenced and given speech
all at once
together
us

It is difficult by Ramsha

It is difficult

To voice fears in a strange melody

To spend almost all nights

With eyes wide open

To stare a starless, whitewashed, roof

 

It is difficult

To become oblivious of ambulance sirens

To avoid the factory buzzer at five in the afternoon

That camouflages the direct message

With a polite announcement

‘There’s a fake hope for freedom’

Inducing raw pain in sleepless eyes

 

 

It is difficult

To mention the river, the smoke, mixed

With private anxiety and tasteless food.

The sugary fluid one forces down

The throat in the name of Chai.

To leave the memory behind

Of late night chats, body odours,

Of alien friendly sights.

To forget the silent struggle, and,

A constant anticipation of comfort.

 

It is difficult

To move against the wheel of time

While desiring those two days

To last forever.

Holding onto the last impression

Of the self being strong enough

To bear the burden of departure.

 

It is difficult

To come out of dark spheres

To write sleazy poems

About a woman in [a refugee camp,

About another woman

Stuck with the enigmas of youth

About the betrayals committed

Under slogans of freedom

 

It is difficult

To sing a song of self

While one sees and hears nothing

While the day is full of nightmares

While the home starts drowning

Under the mirth of tears.

 

“EXILE IS AN IMPERATIVE” by Ramsha Ashraf

On a glamorous rainy day, a man was shot dead,

in front of a foreign policeman’s local house,

the bullet left a tiny rabbit–hole in the forehead

providing a perfect sight for ghost-story-writers.

 

 

It affected nothing; no one had known the man,

people forgot, most did it in a few hours, but

a few took their time through the blue of days:

alarm for collective pain did not resonate.

 

Guns had taken over, schools were shut down,

food went missing and it wasn’t required as well

in any way the dead needed coffins not edibles.

Life is a comic series of errors; exile being one.

 

Exile is an imperative, fear made them realize.

Blood, bread and dead, a perfect theatricality

and a good cathartic way of pitying others,

not themselves, ones suffering from amnesia.

 

 

Madison Street

After when the old night wraps

and cuddle the tired spring-day

in its arms. People leave

the Madison street for the Downtown weekend charm.

Its loneliness made me lost my way, twice.

I mistook Jefferson for Madison,

walked and walked

until the darkness hit my eyes.

Upon my asking the black boy

who works on the gas-station guided

the way back, dismantling my almost

white-supremacist-belief about blacks

and them being indecent and insensitive.

After getting slapped satisfactorily,

when I stepped on the Madison street,

I thought of you and your aloofness,

however, I knew the thought would die

after I enter my room and insert

‘faith-is-dead 417’ using the keyboard.

 

 

Here we are! 

Here we are!

Nibbling on roses and hurting our throats with thorns, walking in narrow streets and breathing through suffocating spaces. After disposing all those little relics and after ‘whoring (with) our passions’ to the point of being non-existent.

Here we are!

Again, in each other’s arms. Avoiding, resisting and ultimately flowing out of each other’s bodies, licking the slide of saltish seconds slipping out of our hands, examining the transformations and eventually surrendering to what remains inevitable, the love.

Here we are!

In the moments where holding onto each other felt so difficult yet almost eternal. But, wait! This is what I feel and think. Maybe, you regret it. Maybe, you relish the sweetness of those moments too. I don’t know. I would never be able to know.  Time snatched my taste buds. Or maybe they are there, just that I have forgotten to taste. The taste of the past.

I am changed!

In a way that I have lost the touch with that peculiar vocabulary of love, sombreness and, maybe, submissiveness too.

 

I sit here!

Thousands of miles away from our home and think about us. It may not send shivers down your spine, it isn’t the touch. It may alarm you and make you feel the discomfort which you probably would dismiss after removing the grains of sand entrapped in your shoes.

Fear by Ramsha

The hair smell of mother’s November-illness,
nights have become a reminder of Bari Ami’s paralyzed tongue,
Two-hundred-miles away, there lives a man
whose ulcers are a threat to the growling stomach,
the girl who rescued herself through pills dances in the foggy front,
too much for the night to carry on its shoulders.

Blindness persists
behind all soliloquies,
the fear of being caught-up naked is stronger than pain
caused in the name of love.