The Girl Banned from Saying No: On the Death of Shaimaa el-Sabbagh

Tin House Staff


Like many of you, we here at Tin House have been mourning the death of Egyptian poet Shaimaa el-Sabbagh. Ms. Sabbagh, age 31, was shot down by masked riot police while trying to place flowers in Tahrir Square on January 24th. We have asked the Egyptian poet and translator, Maged Zaher, to share some of this poet’s work with you and to celebrate her life.

—Matthew Dickman, Poetry Editor

There is a lot to tell about a poet from two poems. There is nothing to tell about a poet from two poems. In the Egyptian sixties, poets were people with a cause, and it showed in his/her poems. This was especially manifested in vernacular poetry—Ahmed Fouad Negm as the iconic poet—whose delicious rhyme and rhythm are weapons or wings that help the poem travel afar and/or wound the dictator. Shaimaa’s poems are written in the vernacular. They are written without rhyme or rhythm. This renders her as one of a small group of formal revolutionary vernacular poets. A unique position given that the vernacular lends itself to overt forms of word play and rhyme/rhythm. When Shaimaa was killed, poetry lost an authentic, humane, generous and capable voice.

—Maged Zaher, Seattle, Washington February 4th, 2015



I’m the girl banned from attending the Christian religion classes, and Sunday mass

I’m the girl banned from attending the Christian religion classes, and Sunday mass
Although I am a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus in “Egypt train station” square at the height of the morning
Even then, all the windows were open and the blood was racing the cars on the asphalt
The eyes of the girls were running in Heaven and catching the forbidden rocking chair.
I am the girl banned from love in the squares …
I stood in the middle of the street and gathered in my hand the stars of the sky individually
And the sweat of the street vendors.
The voice of beggars
And the people who love God as they damn this moment where the creatures of God approved
To crucifying Jesus naked in the crowded square on the clock arms as it declared one at noon
I am the girl banned from saying no, will never miss the dawn


A Letter to My Purse

I am not sure
Truly, she was nothing more than just a purse
But when lost, there was a problem
How to face the world without her
Because the streets remember us together
The shops know her more than me
Because she is the one who pays
She knows the smell of my sweat and she loves it
She knows the different buses
And has her own relationship with their drivers
She memorizes the ticket price
And always has the exact change
Once I bought a perfume she didn’t like
She spilled all of it and refused to let me use it
By the way
She also loves my family
And she always carried a picture
Of each one she loves
What might she be feeling right now
Maybe scared?
Or disgusted from the sweat of someone she doesn’t know
Annoyed by the new streets?
If she stopped by one of the stores we visited together
Would she like the same items?
Anyway, she has the house keys
And I am waiting for her