Nadia Ibrashi – Two Poems

Backgammon Alley
Cairo, Egypt

The old men sit on wooden chairs,
jiggle dice,
fling them
as they dissect wars of the day.
Their prophet eyes
grow with every puff, smoke
snakes through slack hookah cords.
Minor riffs blare out of the radio, mandolins
cry liturgies of pain.
A donkey stumbles beneath a mountain of greens, dogs chew scraps,
children with ragged teeth,
all of creation passes through their alley
which is hosed to tame April dust. Chairs creak amidst a liturgy
of blessings, curses, sips of cardamom tea.
They say Praise prophets and saints.
They say For the love of flowers, we water thorns.
They say Patience is a beau-ti-ful thing.

By nightfall,
hashish glows atop their cones, memory
shuffles their rivers of tears. They tease a final game,
yearn for doubles on their rolls,
call them with Persian names
that found their alley a thousand years ago.
Oh, Dabash, they say or better yet, Dosh,
slapping their thighs, the wonder of double 6’s
landing like fate on worn wood,
gifts from a merciful Lord,
He who lifts sorrows
and tosses a measure of sweet.

Cairo, Egypt 1980

He stared at banana trees
swaying in the garden beyond his reach. Sometimes,
his masters used a long leash, the baby monkey tumbled,
a Mozart of the trees.

I observed him past jasmine shrubs,
palm trees and sugar cane stumps near grandfather’s house.
His face slashed by mesh-screen shadows, long toes reaching,
the neighbors’ balcony
his censored grounds.

His language was coos and grunts, thick lips, pantomime
of desire, dark eyes stalking, nostrils flared at secret lures.
He pranced from his perch,
as I walked into his view.

I did not ask, hapless prisoner, gifted one, what is your name?
I did not think, little monkey, your parents are in a jungle
and mine are in America.
I whistled a tune to his fanning ears.
One day he wasn’t there, I heard that he died,
his long shadow trailing the breeze.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
 But you are eternity and you are the mirror.” 
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

A school of thought suggests that the brain is an organ of reception that perceives beauty and inspiration from the universe as bits of information. I believe the process is more subtle and complex than that, a case of creative intelligence meeting another creative intelligence in a synergistic way. I don’t mean intelligence in an IQ test sort of a way, but rather, as an intelligence of the senses, an intuition. Let’s say you come upon a bird, a leaf or even a stone. These are entities of varying complexities, whose existence is different from yours. By an act of creative empathy, the possibilities of your art may expand to infinity.

I am bemused by the term “Ekphrastic” as all art is inspired by art, which can be as subtle as a breeze. Art is beauty, beauty is art. We are wired for beauty and respond to it. I find my inspiration everywhere; most times an idea starts like a whisper that gathers momentum. The process of creating beauty involves nurturing this whisper into a coherent form, developing a language for its trajectory, a translation to oneself as much as to potential readers. Some think that beauty just is, like a beautiful Banyan, but even that tree developed through a progression that took eons to perfect, though as in evolution/intelligent design, creative work may explode in a Cambrian explosion of new forms.

I don’t tailor my work to a specific audience, as I try to let my art to be free from censors. I aim for truth, cadence, musicality, a surprise as the work and I wrestle with each other. My aunt once told me, while plucking her chin hairs: “One must suffer for beauty.” I agree with her, as I sit at my computer and start the process of focusing on a new creation, refining an image, a feeling, a thought. Some of my poems have been written as if in a trance, others took years to develop.

What I hope to achieve with my readers is a moment where our minds meet in that mysterious realm where beauty lies, and a spark of recognition yields a subterranean clarity, a sharpening of the senses and a softening of the heart.

Nadia Ibrashi’s work received prizes in National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Poetry Society of Michigan, Ebony, Writer’s Digest, Gemini Magazine, Springfed Arts, X.J. Kennedy Awards, Detroit Working Writers and others. Her work appears in The Southeast Review, Nimrod, Narrative, Quiddity, The MacGuffin  and others, and has received acknowledgement with Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature and The Raymond Carver contest. She is assistant editor at Narrative Magazine, and graduated as a fiction fellow with The Writers’ Institute, CUNY. She is a member of Detroit Working Writers, and Springfed Arts, and has practiced medicine in Egypt and in the States.