Two Francophone Arab Poems

translated by Hélène Cardona

The Bread of Letters


Who will blame the trees
when they loose their leaves?
who will accuse the sea of abandoning
shells on the sand?

I, mother-woman, woman-mother
with two breasts for pleasure
and two breasts for maternity
who give the milk of music
tell stories
explain games
light up feelings
and the grammar of thoughts
I, woman of delight
and tenderness
virtuous and sinful
mature and childlike
with my mouth
I feed the bread of letters
consonants and vowels
sentences, synonyms and comparisons.

Who will accuse me
of making a gift of my body
to love?



The act of writing
isn’t it a scandalous act in itself?

To write
is learning to know our
most intimate thoughts

Yes I am scandalous
because I show my truth and my nakedness of woman

Yes I am scandalous
because I scream my sorrow and my hope
my desire, my hunger and my thirst

To write
is to describe the multiple faces of man
the beautiful and the ugly
the tender and the cruel

To write is to die in front of someone
who looks at you, unmoved

it is to drown in front of a boat passing you by
without seeing you

To write
is to be the boat that saves the drowning

To write
is to live on the cliff’s edge
clinging to a blade
of grass

When I write, my self belongs to the other
with this conviction
I am freed.


To Love

To love
is to give another
the possibility of doing without you
To love, it is to prepare yourself
to be abandoned

Translations from the French

Editorial note: From The Abduction, forthcoming from White Pine Press in 2023.

A key figure in contemporary Arab poetry, Maram Al-Masri was born in Syria in 1962 and settled in France in 1982. The author of fifteen books, she has received many important literary prizes, including the Antonio Viccaro International Poetry Prize and the Dante Alighieri. In 2017 the Maram Al-Masri Prize was created, which rewards poetry and graphic works.

Hélène Cardona is the author of seven books. Her translations have appeared in AGNI, Mānoa’s Tyranny Lessons, Poetry International, Asymptote, Exchanges Literary Journal, and more.