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Iman Mersal

Translated by Tarek Sherif

Why did she come to the New World? This mummy, subject of spectacle,
lying in her finery and grey linen: imagined life in a museum case.
Embalming is an issue against immortality
for the body will never be part of a rose.
The mummy didn�t choose to emigrate, while those who waited at length in embassy lines,
and built houses in other lands, dream of returning when they become corpses.
�You must take us there.� That is how their wills weigh on the shoulders of their children.
As if death is an unfinished identity
to be completed only in the family tomb.

Here, too, green trees stand under the weight of the snow, and rivers by which no lovers surreptitiously embrace.
Instead joggers and their dogs run alongside on Sunday mornings, without noticing that the water has frozen from loneliness. And immigrants, untrained in appreciating nature, believe the level of pollution is lower and that they can extend their lives by chewing oxygen before bed in capsules of air.

Why can�t they forget where they are from?
Futile strangers.
They train their jaw muscles to escape the accent � the transparent hereditary disease that exposes them. It leaps out when they�re angry, as they forget how to place their sorrows in a foreign tongue.
The accent doesn�t die, though the strangers are qualified gravediggers.
They stick the names of dead relatives on the fridge so as not to call them up by mistake,
and pay a quarter of their wages to phone companies, to convince themselves they�re in a place definable by its distance from childhood.
Why can�t they forget?

It�s time to buy the organic food, but for an hour I�ve been contemplating a photograph of my mother sitting on the threshold of her father�s house, which is no longer there. I mean the threshold, though my mother herself is no longer there. No one passes on the street because the cars enter and leave by remote control. I bought this house, on whose threshold I cannot sit, from the widow of a Spanish sculptor who had built it on land that traces back to a Ukrainian immigrant to whom it was given by the Canadian government after its appropriation from the American Indians so as to found a city with a number of universities, tens of shopping malls and thousands like me who know the health benefits of organic food and own cars that enter and leave by remote control.

In only six steps, the foreigner writes a successful letter to the family:
- he chooses a moment in which he doesn�t miss them.
- he sits with his back to the street because walls are more neutral.
- he greets everyone meticulously.
- he recalls the figures of speech that he grew up on, the figures of speech he thought he would never touch like: �I love as much as there are stars in the sky and grains of sand,� and �I long for you the way the thirsty long for medicine and the ill for water and the stranger for a homeland.�
- he avoids mentioning the details of his daily routine, as he doesn�t know how they would interpret them.
- He repeats �Thank God� a lot to reassure them of his faith.

What you learned here doesn�t differ from what you learned there:
� reading as a transit pass to an absented reality
� hiding shyness behind profane utterances
� concealing weakness with long fingernails
� passing insomnia by smoking always, and by arranging the drawers sometimes
� saving three kinds of eyedrops for clear vision, then enjoying blindness
but most important is that wondrous moment of shutting one�s eyelids over the flame.
Here and there,
it seems that life exists only to be observed from afar.

Minutes, and the serenity that no one looks for will permeate you.
Just leave your head under the water.
How? The thought sparkles like a pearl in a wastebasket. How can you squander it so?
It�s your thought. It�s unlike you and genuine.
These seconds are uncountable, they are the blade between two times.
Remember the filthy plates in the kitchen . . . the junk mail, the lamps that illuminate themselves in your pupils. Prozac . . . the mercy you didn�t know you were looking for, is with you. It will permeate your lungs if you let your body fall, fall to the bottom . . . under the water . . . another few seconds, no need for fear.
Time does absolutely nothing.
It won�t leave your courage enough weight to drag you below.
Time is unimportant. It is only time.

On another continent you left miserable enemies,
you can only feel ashamed of yourself when you remember them.
Nothing angers you now. It�s difficult to meet a classical communist here,
They even put a clock up in government offices instead of the president�s picture.
It may be a nightmare for you to spend a day like this under the influence of sedatives,
Nothing is worthy of your rebellion. You are satisfied and dead.
And life around you appears as a hand of mercy,
that lights the room for an old blind man
so that he might read the past.


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