Umm Kulthum Speaks


I was a little boy with the voice of a God
once. How else could my father set this spell of mine
free? So I dressed my voice, first with boy’s clothing,
then with the Qur’an, then with poems, then with Egypt,
but all these were merely pretexts
for the magic that rose out of my throat.
Don’t you see how the streets are empty
on my radio Thursdays? Do you know what tarab
means? To repeat, to carry everyone back
to their hurt. I bent the sentences I sang
into portals, and what else could you have screamed
but Allah Allah Allah for hours?
Then came the scarf in my left hand,
the black diamond-studded cat-eye sunglasses,
but these were things I carried because
they had names. One has to dress
for this earth. You still haven’t seen my wings.
I haven’t been called a planet for nothing. My voice soars
around the theater, the sun, and comes back to this street
at midnight, more than half a century later, asking,
Has love ever seen such drunkenness?
Everything about me orbits. Even my coffin
has sailed the streets of Cairo for hours.

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