THREE POEMS by Iman Mersal

/ / Poetry

A grave I’m about to dig


    As I return home with a dead bird in my hand, a little grave I’m about to dig waits for us in the backyard.

    No blood on the washed feathers, two outspread wings, and a dewdrop (some concentrate of spirit?) on its beak, as if it had flown for many days while actually dead.

    Its fall was fated in the Lord’s eyes, heavy and diagonal in front of mine. 

    I’m the one who left my country back there to go for a walk in this forest, holding a dead bird whose absence the flock never noticed,

    returning home for a funeral that might have been solemn and grand were it not for the sneakers on my feet.



A gift from Mommy on your seventh birthday


These are the instructions:


  1. Spread a tablecloth on level ground.
  2. Make sure to wear the provided goggles.
  3. Grab the ax with your right hand.
  4. Strike the hollow brick very lightly.
  5. If you strike too hard, you might break the treasure hidden inside.


    —I don’t know what the treasure is either, but here’s what’s written on the box: If you’re lucky, a gift from the pharaohs lies inside! 

    —No, sweetie, no one in Egypt sent this to you, it was made in China.

    —Let’s think. Could it be a mummy, with no internal organs? The Great Pyramid’s tomb before the archaeologists discovered it? The head of Cleopatra after she fell in love?

    —Those are just guesses . . .

    —You won’t know until you break it to pieces.

    —Let’s go out to the backyard first. If we do it here, everything will be covered in dust.

A night at the theater


The man on the bus

who cursed our driver for missing his stop

now sings under a lofty balcony,

looking skinny in his fake hair.

His eyes are smaller than I remember.


How did he fall in love with Juliet in less than an hour

while his own wife

(she let everyone know she was his wife)

fights off yawns in the front row

and waits for the play to end?


Juliet was born a very long time ago.

With some help from the stage lights

and her white dress, she looks sad,

and indeed we all know she’s about to die.


Why doesn’t the cameraman take a step 

back from the body?

The way he’s doing it

everyone will see

how hard she’s trying not to breathe.


Now members of the two households

remove their stiff costumes,

put away their daggers, and hunt 

for trousers and watches.

Some will dash to the bathroom

before going out to take their bows. 


If I were Romeo

I’d keep the suicide scene short

so as not to hear

my wife’s snoring.

Translated from the Arabic by Robyn Creswell