The Stroke

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Featured in Arab World Books and ACT Writers' Poetry Evening in Australia 

Iman Mersal

For my father

Simply Sleeping

He bites his lip suppressing an anger
caused by reasons he cannot recall.
He sleeps deeply,
the palms holding his head up
make him look like the soldiers
dozing in midnight trucks
as they shut their eyelids
on piles of images,
letting their souls spin
until they suddenly turn into angels.


I should have become a doctor
so that I can track the ECG
with my own eyes,
and confirm that the clot
was a mere cloud
that would break into normal tears
when enough warmth is provided.
But I am useful to no one,
and my father who cannot sleep in his own bed
now sleeps deeply on a stretcher
in a wide hall.


Silent women
filled the corridor leading to you.
They prepared for a ritual
to scrape rust
piled on throats
that could only test their range
in collective screaming.

That’s Good

Volunteers’ shoulders
carried the man from the bed next to yours
to the public graveyard.

That’s good for you.

Death cannot repeat its deed
in the same room,
on the same night.


With his heart attuned to every step I took,
now he can be remembered
only as an old, musty smell.
Maybe he hated my summer shorts,
and my poetry that is empty of music.
But I caught him more than once,
dizzy in the ruckus my friends made,
stealing puffs
from the cigarettes they left behind.


To help me buy “translated poems,”
this deep sleeper convinced me
that his wedding band constricts his finger.
He continued smiling as we left the jeweler’s,
and as I told him
his nose looks nothing like mine.

News of Your Death

I will receive your death
as the last wrong you commit against me.
I will not feel relief as I’d thought,
and I will firmly believe
that you have denied me the opportunity
to diagnose the tumors
that grew between us.
In the morning
I may be surprised by my puffed eyelids
and how the arc of my back
has gotten sharper.

House of Mirrors

We will go together
to the amusement park.
You will see yourself taller
than your father’s date palm
and I will stand beside you
twisted and dwarfed.
No doubt, we’ll laugh a lot
and mercy will spread between us.
Each of us will know
that we both carry on our backs
childhoods deprived
of visiting amusement parks.


My dead mother visits me
frequently in dreams.
Sometimes she cleans my nose
from what she believes to be schoolyard dust.
Other times she gathers my hair
with the violence of hands
used to braiding a girl.
She will not pay attention
to the scissors that brutalized my hair
or its chopped edges.

You too
may transfix the world at the moment of your death.
And I will have enough time
to warn you.

Many Times

Many times
the doctor enters our house and says:
You called too late.
Because of this
I will erase the medical records
of loved ones who are not buried
when they die.
And I will convince
the windows in my room,
as I shut them firmly,
that I have a private mourning to tend to
while the music of nearby celebrations

You Have Lost Sense

I tie my hair back
to look like a girl you once loved.
And for years,
I wash my mouth from beer
before returning home.
I never describe God in your presence,
and there’s nothing that requires your forgiveness.
You are kind, but you must have lost sense
when you made me believe
the world is like a girls’ school
and I would have to set aside my wishes
to remain the teacher’s pet.

In Neutrality

I will wash my hands of numbing lies,
and burn before his eyes
the clay I shaped to fit his dreams.
will point to the left side of his chest,
and I
will nod with the neutrality of nurses.

He must believe,
before the coma ends,
that his wish to die
will not fill the cracks within the family.

Usually the windows are gray
and splendid in their width
allowing the bed-ridden
to view the traffic below
and the weather outside.

Usually the doctors have sharp noses
and eyeglasses
that fix the distance between them and pain.

Usually relatives leave
flowers at room entrances
along with prayers seeking forgiveness
from their future dead.

Usually unadorned women
walk the hallway tiles,
and sons stand under light fixtures
clutching x-ray files
affirming that cruelty can fade
if only their parents had more time.

Usually everything recurs
and the wards are filled with new bodies
as if a punctured lung
is sucking away all the world’s oxygen
leaving all these chests
short of breath.

Not Likely

It is not likely
that I will take my father to the sea at year’s end.
I will hang in front of his bed
a poster of beach-goers
and beaches that stretch to places I do not know.
He may not see it at all.
This is why
I will silence the sound of my breathing
as I wet his fingertips with salt water.
And I will believe, years later,
that I heard him say:
“I smell the scent of iodine.”



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