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Arab World Books and ACT Writers' Poetry Evening in Australia

ann fairbairn
Ann Fairbairn

Anne Fairbairn AM is a widely published poet, and journalist. She is also an artist with extensive connections and travels across the Arab World. For her many publications and work involving building understanding between cultures, Fairbairn was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM, for service to literature as a poet and for international relations, particularly in the Middle East,through Cultural Exchange. In 1998, in Egypt, Fairbairn presented three hundred books containing the work of Australian poets and writers to Professor Mohsen Zahran at the new Alexandria Library. She also presented her long Poem, ‘Two Gardens in Cairo’ (in Arabic and English), to Egyptian Nobel Laureate, Naguib Mahfouz on Farah Boat on the Nile.

This is a selection of the poems she read in the evening in Canberra.

anne fairbairn

TWO GARDENS IN CAIRO

Dedicated o the memory of Naguib Mahfouz who believed in tolerance and moderation.


EGYPT 1915


Each night she wakes on the stroke of twelve.

An oil lamp set high on a wall

In a whitewashed niche is projecting light

…. A pale circle on the ceiling,

Hemmed in by darkness.

Can she hear

Whispering jinns in the empty rooms?

When her husband's walking stick

Tap-taps from the street his arrival home

From wine-soaked hours philandering,

She holds the lamp to light his way

Up the stairs. Drunk, he twists

Her ear and shouts, 'I'm your husband,

The one who commands!' If asked her opinion

She replies, 'My opinion is yours, sir.'

Each day as the sun is slipping away,

She climbs the steps to her roof-garden.

In webbed shadows of hyacinth beans

And jasmine, she trims and waters her herbs,

Glancing from time to time across

Cairo's roofs to the crescents and lamps

On Qala'un and Barquq's minarets.

Below the twisting, restless street

Echoes with the constant chatter

Of donkey carts, cries of vendors,

Beggars' pleas, haggling shoppers,

And the cursed Australians' raucous chatter.

Soon these soldiers will fold their tents

And fade from Giza like a mirage.

Many will die on the Dardanelles,

Later, those who survive will ride

Across the desert to claim Damascus

For the Arabs. But peace brings merely

Shattered pledges and loss of trust.


EGYPT 1919

From her garden, beside her son,

She watches a demonstration grow.

Supporters of the revolution

Are gathering around Bayt al-Qadi,

Souk al-Sagha and al-Nahhasin.

As the crowd swells and surges,

People are shouting, ’Sa’d, Sa’d,

Sa’d is free …. Allahu Akbar!’

Her son turns to question her,

‘Do you love Sa’d Pasha our leader?’

‘I love him if you do, my son,’ she says.

‘That doesn’t mean anything ,’ he replies.

He leaves her in her fragrant garden.

‘I’m joining my fellow freedom-fighters

In Ramses Square, against my father’s

Wishes. I must follow my conscience,

The world is so full of blood and grief.

Don’t worry mother today the British

Freed our leader and sanctioned our rally

This is indeed a day of peace!’

From balconies high on minarets,

The muezzins are loudly reciting

Prayers of gratitude;

Some are chanting

‘Oh Husayn, a burden has lifted!’

The vast parade is thrusting forward

To assemble in Ezbekiya Gardens.

While hawks are wheeling in golden light

Above the city, this woman smiles,

‘From today my thoughts are mine,

My son’s rebuke has set me free.’

Staccato bursts, distant yet clear,

Cut across her reverie.

‘Guns?’ She murmurs, ’It cannot be.’

* * * * *

In Ezbekiya Gardens, British

Soldiers are firing at the crowd

…. Against the prayers against the joy.

Her son lies dying beside his friends.

The towering trees are shimmering;

He sees darkness …. Only darkness.

TRANSPLANT OF CONSCIENCE
by Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri
published by Anne Faribairn in 1987 in the 'Feathers and the Horizon" anthology.

We doctors have achieved the imnpossible,
Transplanting skulls and hearts and restoring rib-cages.
But when will the banner of our final vistory be raised
Transplanting a conscience into minds devoid of conscience?

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