The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2011

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OCT 2011 Issue

For the Voice, For the Fragile Echo

Here we consecrate to shiny paper a
recluse’s scattered reflections drawn
from the emptiness of solitude.


When we sat scattered around the yard, which we secured with this old iron bolt, as we did each lunar month, it was easy to miss her arrival, which she dissimulated and wished to cache in an atmosphere that she caressed affectionately with her constant motion, because she valued a beautiful surprise or the possibility of a hush-hush entrance veiled in tranquility.

We had sat like this, examining the rust specks that clung to our fingers each time our hands touched the solidity of the cold iron when we shot the bolt, one after the other, to guarantee ourselves a temporal seclusion that confused us in those first days when we witnessed—in the temporal reckoning suspended in this spatial setting—evidence of our mutual resemblance that overflowed with the gentle affection that the four of us had felt for each other before her departure and our subsequent exposure to the gaps and rifts that her absence, which had splintered off from our bodies, had left.

We used this arrival to wrap ourselves in a violet cloak that trailed over the passage of long, intemperate seasons along with the commentaries about it, which were conveyed to us by the fleeting gestures of foreign visitors relaxing at the spit separating the island harbor from the sea’s vast expanse. Armed with long, rough walking sticks, the strangers lounged for some time in a cabana—a resting place to which we descended and then leaned our sturdy torsos toward its shade while carefully examining the runes that Wisan normally distributed over this infatuation of ours, hoping, as she always told us in a handful of drowsy moments buttressed by the gossamer quality of a dream, that we would discover a formula for this return that lay beyond our grasp.

Our hearts bled misgivings about this obscurity that came to us veiling another grief, unlike any we had known. We sat listening intently for her arrival, distinguishing her rapid step down paved roads and along cold marble halls lined by faces, velvet chairs, signs, and placards that clarified for anyone lost the prescribed direction he should follow once he crossed the first threshold of the large, electronic door.

The way she headed toward us when she shepherded him into a motionless, lingering haze put on hold everything we knew about discovery in this lost era when we were eager for an existence that would complete and mend with a discerning hand her absence, the significance of which we had yet to grasp.

We rushed to investigate the hemp bags, which our aunt Marduda had sewn with exquisite care during our joyous childhood. Our first letters were drawn on them to prevent us from deceiving her during our transgressions and quarrels when each of us claimed to be one of the others, leaving her confused and anxious.

In this spatial domain, we preserved, arranged, and dusted off our own personal history, which the others had not been able to keep straight but which remained transparent and glistening in its clarity to our eyes. We leafed through yellowed pages on which humidity had stamped its zigzags, familiarizing ourselves with texts where some letters had been penned at moments when we hadn’t become used to temporal distance. Numerous other pages remained to confront us with their dull yellowing that waited for ink to take pity on them and fashion words into a notion that would swim through these pages’ ocean. We read all of them, entering into the story of the word or the corridors of the spaces of lines that had not yet been drawn with a ruler, before refolding these pages with the smooth regularity that Wisan’s hand had displayed when she had finished or had failed to divulge her innermost thoughts.

Our longing was unbearable; we would tap on the heart with our fingers to calm it and conceal its caprices. We were always exploring the distances toward her, weaning our bellies with a diet of debilitating waiting, weighing the minutes in our six outstretched palms till they rose like obelisks in the burden of a time that didn’t belong to us, like a self-sufficient trap that drips its honey through a funnel, running in and out. The hands of this clock turned consecutively and rays of light entered the slit by the door in sequence until we stood naked before a moon whose pale light flirted with scenes that glimmered and disintegrated to reveal the face of our girl, who was transmitted to us on lines of papyrus in the fragility of this whole assembly’s shadow.

At the moment that our vigil had disclosed what had been concealed from us, Wisan’s feet surprised us, crossing the threshold of the exterior door. Her footsteps were accompanied by the sound of others that seemed heavy and faltering. She held the man’s hand and clutched his left arm to her, leading him cheerfully to the small courtyard where Aunt Marduda’s chickens, which were known for their constant clucking and preoccupation with the weather and the circumstances of their life, gathered around the fountain in this courtyard, which we had cleaned every day with hopeful anticipation.

Here in the middle of the space stood the woman whose arrival we had long awaited. She animated the scene with childish gestures she had picked up from us. So we too stood in the place’s seclusion, struck dumb by this spectacle. The dark-complexioned man, who reacted to everything that small, veined fingers showed him with surprising excitement and a broad smile, laboriously set down his leather bag and then sprawled on the ground. For a moment we could not be certain whether he had sat down or his body had collapsed all at once before our eyes. Then we noticed the silence that had started to slip in slowly once the conversation had ended; now its pressure was overwhelming. We could almost see its weight.

They squatted there: the man with wrinkled skin and the girl we resemble. They were gazing quietly at the emptiness of things smothered by the dark purple twilight. A fragrance reached us from the distance, and we rested in the stillness, surrendering to the breeze’s suggestions of a certainty that cast its shadow in the intense blackness that linked us where we stood close to each other in this house.

In the morning a crowd filled the small courtyard: women swathed in black, their bodies pressed against each other, nursing infants, and toddlers timidly taking their first steps to chase the startled chickens and splash each other with the fountain’s brackish water. We were surprised by the clamor, the rustling sound of the talk, which was prolonged and repeated, the praises for God and calls for the Creator to heal ailing bodies, and other less harmonious pleas for transmogrification and travel through invisible worlds. Confusion troubled us when we stepped outside our spatial domain looking for what we felt was a delayed perception of an event we had not noticed while we attempted to gather the fragments of the conversation into a format by which we could note what our condition was when we woke this day of the third month in the lunar calendar, which had occupied our consciousness since Hares mounted the wave of dirt that had kept spewing him forth.*

In our bewilderment, we did not notice her approach until we began to shiver and a bitter chill touched our hearts. We froze in place, embracing her face and body with our pupils before her feet stepped on the threshold of our existence and she spread warmth through a rift that was terrifyingly painful.

The boundaries of our bodies had been distorted by this excessively harsh separation and clearly showed an avidity for the fragmentation that had disfigured us with its blemishes and that had marked us with a state of delirium in which our members moldered. We found no escape from the folly of the void that sliced through our spirits until we yielded in our spatial domain, where everything pertained to our initial upbringing and its manifestations that lurked calmly in an atmosphere that brimmed with our everlasting union—just as the files, which were obediently stacked in a pyramid, have made clear in calligraphy and designs that swelled, reflecting our splendid life in the mirror of these folded pages.

She was near us now, and we hugged each other. She circled us with her attractive gait as a time over and beyond the morning’s reckoning—transmitted to us by the succession of its events—seeped in. The joyous ring of Wisan’s voice as she drew us toward the south room, which had remained closed since our grandmother’s death, revived us:


The word heralded our stumbling progress through the narrow intervals between one extended leg and the next and trembled in our ears like mercury till we stood on the threshold of the door, which was ajar. Humid breezes, which were all that remained of the ancient fragrance of the perfumed scent of our grandmother’s breaths, seared our faces. This reassured us and made us feel calmer and more sociable toward the stranger, who sat at the center of the room with his eyes closed, placing his hands on the belly and chest of a woman who lay prone there in voluntary submission, unperturbed by the masculine touches of the thick fingers of a man who appeared to be examining the spread of a virulent substance beneath her skin—evidenced by the skin’s yellowing and cracking and the draining of blood from the veins.

We waited until he completed his exhausting examination and touched his forehead, which was sweating profusely. He whispered something near the temple of the woman who was stretched out before him and then looked up at Wisan, who approached.

Pointing toward him, she said, “This is Foster.”

We nodded in his direction, realizing then that we would not be able to approach any closer. He was sinking into a shining sea in a purple flood from which light was diffracted, reflecting his face in small, dispersed crystals.

“He’s here recuperating.”

She said this and hugged him. Then, oblivious to our presence, another woman entered and stood rigidly before him as she pointed to various places on her body. Speaking in her dialect, she related pain’s dominion over her, her complicated pregnancy, and her insomnia, which was less severe in total darkness. Meanwhile he nodded, listening as if he understood—despite the difference of the pronunciation in the colloquial language—thanks to some resource that tenderness bountifully bestowed on his sympathetic emotion and mercy.

We withdrew silently, glancing at the different faces packed into our little courtyard, thinking of the time that had faded away in our memory since their arrival, which we had witnessed very clearly during our vigil, which seemed like yesterday, and since his renown had spread and the general public had begun to flow toward his healing presence.

In the evenings when the courtyard of the house emptied of visitors, we listened to the din of the sewing machine that our grandmother’s hand had left in the corner. His head would be bent over it, embroidering and mending garments from a pile of unknown origin. We would peek regretfully at the reserve Wisan firmly imposed when she sat near him, surrounded by a pile of books and papers, as she busily took notes, too busy to notice us—we who had paid homage and suffered distances and dread, who had suppressed one tremor after another, until the young woman who had confounded our hearts since we were children appeared before us. We watched her, knowing that her return was still a work in progress and that her presence among us now was still being revealed.

We whispered through the door’s peephole and in the sanctuary of the wall’s stones, “Delay this absence, You in Whose Thrall we are, and once and for all repair the spirit’s fissure.”


He had circled the walls of our house for a whole week before he cast his shadow over us that noon and before his labored breathing took a straight line that led to the threshold of the large iron door, which we had left open, since we were sure that something would be drawn inside and that it was our duty to grasp it in our warm embrace, fearful of its excessive fragility.

We had observed his hesitant steps and seen the hopeful look in his eyes when his long fingers touched the cracks of the corners of this place that had sheltered us since our grandmother one morning had used both hands to set out four stones to create a rectangular space inside which we had continued building till pillars and walls rose. These were surmounted by the roof that immediately separated us from the sky’s expanse.

As he drew nearer during the previous days, the house continued to moan with a low sound that made us so uneasy that we became obsessed by the whispering in its gaps, crevices, and peeling paint and searched for calm and tranquility. This was difficult in the shadow of the invisible storms buffeting the place, and it became hard for us to move from one room to another unless we carried with us our anchor that had been passed down to us through successive generations.

It was just the opposite for Wisan, who continued to watch calmly for what the burnished metal would reveal at the house’s threshold, which had gradually begun to hum in a meaningful way and had started to assume the color of legendary panegyrics with which it would strike the people passing through its small, homogenous space, until some of them grew confused and launched into long discourses, some oral and others written, in which they discussed a passion, longing, and feebleness related to an emotional agitation of unknown origin. They would embellish their theses with the saffron letters of silver banners they hung at dawn on the walls of the house. Thus, by noon, the house seemed to be floating in the light that spilled from the sun at the center of the sky, and people would be too dazzled to see us or the house.

He had continued circling the house like this, fascinated by the phenomena revealed to him, incapable of destroying his dread, and feverish from angst that strengthened until it began to flow to us as anxieties and unruly gusts that uprooted our deeply held beliefs. Then we decided to push the great door wide open so that the outdoors would be clearly visible and his shadow would extend for a moment and touch our foreheads before it slowly disintegrated to encompass the bit of earth on which we stood and then lay motionless, even though he was rapidly approaching us.

We had previously penetrated the character of his existence when he seemed to waver between negotiating with time’s larvae and weaving together life’s numerous possibilities in his secret meetings with the woman of our youth in his room, which foreshortened existence and was crowned with galaxies that drew both of them into the subtleties of other lives when these lives sprang from their first seeds and drew from the quiver the arrows of everlasting chivalry. The couple enjoyed the room’s playfulness and the assistance of its numerous strategies that fluctuated between jesting and quarreling.

Our presence in those meetings would disappear and then materialize with the flutter of wings that usually achieved the transparency of Wisan’s eyelashes as we hovered near her. Then, noting this cunning on our part, she began to restrain us till the flame that betrayed us to her subsided, and we retreated in a rout to our spatial domain. A yearning to join her consumed us, and we were anxious about her being alone with the man who sat opposite her, talking to her with a delight that we heard reverberate in Wisan’s chest. Both of them chattered persistently each time they met and each time they parted.

When his feet reached the iron door, the sill sank with an existential groan and appeared ready to embrace his slender body; meanwhile a flock of birds had landed on the fountain with a surprising, noisy din. Then they subsided into a silence that seemed out of character for such an assembly.

He stood erect at the open door, gazing into the void, while the silver streamers fluttered around him. We entreated him to step inside and touch the face of our girl in her temporal isolation. Perhaps some bliss would settle over us and some determination would return to us, allowing us to ward off the destinies that this south room of our venerable house had not tired of meting out with resounding jealousy. It had remained closed for the past ten years, since our grandmother died and Wisan traveled into the labyrinth, carting off our family’s collected history, which was stored in her memory and recorded on scraps of paper, some of which had been wrapped around others till it had become impossible to separate them or to arrange them without precipitating a catastrophe that would ignite what was recorded in the present, destroying it before there was time for it to enter the past.

The south room was occupied by a woman we adore and Foster—the strange man who has been blessed with an ability to heal others, although his own soul bleeds profusely. He stitches up wounds, mending this and that, while his spirit is stabbed repeatedly, proscribed, and slandered in a way that dodges a reality that all this bloodshed has horrified, so that it lies agonizing in his purple water.

We showed him all this to the extent our courage allowed, surveying eras we had not experienced and others that were still being shaped, even though we felt embarrassed around him. In the few moments he was allowed to touch the soft body, we hauled him in, loading him with little memories of Wisan’s submissive breast between his fingers, of her breath on his face, of the arabesques of infatuation and of desire’s lethal assault in dissolution in the other.  Then we inspired a dream in him until ecstasy devoured him and he stepped forward to meet the woman whose full participation we craved in our midst. When it was our turn, we kissed her lips and neck and welcomed her arrival in our circle once and for all.

He remained in that stance, right on the sill for two days in a row while his consciousness slipped into the diaphanous unknown until patients began to rush past him on their way to the house’s courtyard without noticing the atoms of his existence, which continued to fluctuate between heaven and earth. Their bodies thrust through him when they entered and exited while he became fragmented as lingering questions shredded him in his apprehension about appearing before a woman he had awaited for a lifetime during which he had written prayers and addressed her as the queen of his imagination.

By the third day it had become difficult even for our discerning eyes to distinguish his features, which had begun to fade away. We had not yet grown skilled in attracting an existence that is disintegrating and feared that an even greater fragmentation would ensue, one we would be unable to reverse. So we poured cactus oil around his feet, and his transmigration was visibly slowed, leaving him frozen in his current state. Perhaps some flexibility blocked the force exerted by the distance between our tremendously high doorway and the south room, which had a low door framed refreshingly by the green flowerpots that Wisan’s brown hands had arranged with typical care.

While we were busy with him, we did not pay attention to what was beginning to slip into the house until the attractively languid scent of jasmine brought us up short. It spread with playful coquetry through the recesses of the different rooms and the closed wardrobes and intruded on our space, which was unaccustomed to outside scrutiny. The house was filled with this scent, and we saw it condense and trickle down the house’s whitewashed walls, leaving zigzag paths panting behind it while it left captivity in its wake, which kept engaging the imagination, leaving our bodies prey to successive tremors that assailed us limb by limb, taking hold of us and exposing what we had buried for a long time beneath the shelter of our concerns and its transformative essence.

We noticed its effect on the submissive faces of visitors to our courtyard. They were absentminded, plaintive, and forgetful. Then we noticed that Wisan’s cheeks were blushing, even though she was busy taking notes, and this increased our love and interest. Desire plundered us, and we began to circle her body feverishly, waiting till we could catch her off guard to press our lips against hers to sip their nectar when Wisan brought the tea glass close enough to feel the scalding hot liquid, little realizing that we were nibbling her rosy lips.

We continued circling like this for many weeks while the penetrating perfume worked its magic, stripped us of the perfectly realized visages that had taken root in our skins, and excavated anything that had collected in us till we imagined it part of us. Then we began to feel some buoyancy in our existence, and some perception of our surroundings returned to us.

This was on one of those mornings that were fragrant with the scent of coffee that Aunt Marduda prepared and placed on the table nearby; the four cups were in their customary places, the way we had liked to arrange them since we were children. At the center sat Wisan, who—her eyes drowsy—was sunk in her dreams, details of which we used to witness while she dreamt, allowing us to remind her later of any details that eluded her when she was busy narrating small particulars of places, people, events, puzzles, and allegories that formed part, so to speak, of the affairs of the dream.

This morning, our aunt added two extra cups, for Wisan and Foster, on the far side of the table. Our lounging figures occupied a reasonable space at the center of a family assembly that had remained hollow and lackluster for a considerable length of time. Our hearts beat faster on account of this tender about-face, and we prayed tranquilly with Aunt Marduda. She knew our fiery passion and the debilitating agony that we had suffered regarding the phenomena that events had revealed. These had confused our desperate attempts to mix our tales with the covert desires we had ignored for a long time and would almost have sworn that they did not concern us and that this destiny, which influences our life and does not extend beyond it, does not affect us but rather tries each time to tempt us with whatever we cannot resist, announcing its greedy victory to the crowd, displaying the unexpected rawness of endings that connect to other endings, of a captivity that sails inside its captivity, and of promises that fuse in themselves, searching for a refuge that will shelter them.

For his part, the lover, who was disguised by a pride that chatted with him about a passion he admired, flowed out, baffled, into a forest that tender shoots filled with lethal poisons. He himself would offer her the death agony of the sacrificial victim that crowns its slayer and dances exuberantly for the fires that will consume it while watching the heavy blade descend. For her part, Wisan was the beloved who floated in the velvet seclusion that attracts the dove of tranquility; we saw her in the dream’s veil, calling for them to listen to each other and for the ice at his feet to melt. Each of them was part of the burden; each of them was part of the forbearance. They spread out the recorded entry that spilled from between their fingers to recount the existence that overlooked the snares that diverted them with fierce pulsation from the petulance of a pain that continued to affect them in the deluge that trapped their two spirits between the flow of time and space.

On mornings like these we sipped our coffee slowly, embracing the warmth that flowed from our tight-packed bodies, listening to the whisper of intimate conversation about ordinary things, after we had carefully bolted the large iron door, shortening the time as a precaution, hoping that perhaps the woman of our childhood would lean her exhausted brow briefly on our shoulders, which pressed against each other around her, to grant it and us some measure of relief at the same time.


The question of the family seems daunting, because a family is both distant and close at the same time. Whenever we examine its aspects, we are conscious of the fluctuation of its circumstances and multiple aspects, which are at times plunged into a hardening mode and at other times into a nonchalant limpness. It is difficult for us when we embark on fluent questioning to investigate the delicate roots that cluster, intersect, or twine around each other before they strike their tips into the belly of the dirt, where they continue firmly planted, generously providing their everlasting shade.

We vary our positions—the directions in which generous destinies have been gracious, leaving them the neutrality of bodies with the transparency of light. No one scrutinizes our comings and goings, except for glances—glances redolent of Aunt Marduda’s incense and her sympathy for a union that will honor us—and except for the ascending song of the heartbeats of a friend who delights in our company.

We cross temporal boundaries, watchfully entering events that disclose clues about other events that trap us like a labyrinth as we spring about. It opens a swarm of tunnels that tempt our consternation and confusion in the face of occurrences, which reach alarming proportions before our eyes and which diaries secretly record, the clamor of the appliances that pervade the place and of protracted discussions that lead to protracted discussions, and the shouts and presence of individuals who share our blood’s tattoo and its submission to the letter printed with the proud achievement of the family’s name.

We struggle to understand their divisions and subdivisions that they endure for weeks in succession, as they exhaust aversion, blame, and slights that deliberately rehash what jam-packed time has swallowed up with its antiquity. They prepare to remember; they unearth wounds that had worn down to faded images that celebrate a life wallowing in a handful of soil, the peak of which slopes downward to probe, hurriedly, seconds like shooting stars that set ablaze everything they touch. The racket of their mutual rejection matches the racket of their stillness. “How can the family be surfeited with all this turmoil?” we ask ourselves during the siesta beneath the guava tree that grows in the center of the house’s courtyard. To escape this hot breeze they flee to their rooms, which are refreshed by the chilled air of droning appliances. We camouflage ourselves in the solidity of the trunk and its boughs that boast the complex fragrance of the fruit that sway like icons in the oratory.

In this place, after the sun inclines its face a little toward the horizon, the women will gather for their daily meeting, celebrating their femininity as their black silk abayas drop to allow eyes an opportunity to scrutinize, as each woman judges the attributes of the other. Some of them will be distinguished by having arms and legs ornamented with lines of henna in curves and zigzags that reveal exceptional effort. They will drink mint tea and exchange plates of sweets and cakes interspersed with tropical fruit brought by massive steamboats from distant lands. Each woman will distinguish herself with a story in which she fabricates imaginary enquiries about the violation of children and young men, about men who are widowed and women who die of illnesses that have devastated once flourishing bodies. Stories fade away and succeed each other, punctuated by gasps of suppressed fear. Each woman will whisper “bismillah” down her bosom to protect herself from the consequences of a destiny that cannot be trusted.

Then, in a moment, we will observe the convulsion of their tender bodies in jocular laughter at the naughty jokes they trade while an emotion imbued with understanding embraces their chests. At that moment, each will start whispering and jesting about affairs of her bedchamber, about potions and perfumes with a legendary fragrance that will inflame a man’s heart and members, leaving him prey to a savage lust that shocks his biochemistry and leaves him with a never-ending erection—the grandeur of masculinity that the amalgamated form of powerful muscles can scarcely support and a rig that bellows at the assault of being tamed. The women of the family guffaw, boasting to each other with their limited knowledge and discussing both passion and the touch of skin in a boudoir rotation of overflowing delight. They are enchanted by their stockpiles of moaning and stammering that surge and continue in a medley of nocturnal intercourse, which they strive to conceal from the small eyes of the children who pack their bedrooms, which have numerous, rectangular mirrors.

We listen to the horseplay of their casual stories, which boast of the ardor of vexation as they roam sidewalks lined with closely set shops during evenings when their voice fades away while they scout around in the hubbub of markets that are jam-packed with feet, eyes, and hands. They test the fabrics with fingers that gleam with the gold encircling the soft skin of their pinkie and index fingers. They deliberately flirt when asking a question, haggling, or allowing a brief wink, a word the ear seizes, or a slip of paper that the wind suddenly wafts as shoulders brush against each other. As soon as their feet step over the house’s threshold, their secrets are scattered through the corridors and the corners of numerous rooms.

“Did you see what he did?” one asks another.

“Did you notice his smile?” a third woman asks the fourth.

Then each studies the telephone numbers chance has awarded her, cheap expressions of love, suggested assignations, and dreams about exploiting the time during the heat of a boring summer, which drags out its calendar till summer lasts for months, leaving the other seasons to float in memory’s cloud. The women of the family are amused by erotic fantasies while waiting for spouses ensnared by bars and cabarets offering smoke for air and raucous music. They investigate the flame in their bodies via telephone hookups that introduce them to a confrontation with the body, where numerous masks and imaginary, tired stratagems accost a woman’s soul and fabricate pleasure.

All of this wretched solidarity fills distant nights for the women crammed into silent houses on our small island. We are very attentive to them when their sobbing grows louder and one of them tires of waiting. We stealthily interpose ourselves between fleeting time and the passion at play in their breasts to prevent them from feeling a gap stolen from promises and longing in which pain will multiply till it exhausts us.

We had attempted to enter the complexion of human sentiments and their transformation. Thus we did not cast ourselves into the insight granted us until our nebulous swoon, which was accompanied by a strange, sensual doping that separated us from each other and that left us sliding off into the shadow of non-existence, which seemed everlasting to us. We persevered, however, incapable of distinguishing the flame that members of the family kept lobbing at each other or the type manifested in a heart as despair set one member after another ablaze. “How can the family take charge of all this misery?” we wondered in periods that granted us a gathering of a shredded dispersal of relatives and their offspring, separated by a chasm of competition. Then they would delve into the lethal anguish that traverses the ruins of their relationship with one another, granting them a misleading harshness that rallies affection till it silences meanness in killing.

The years interlace in a mispronunciation that emerges from their throats as they pray for progeny who will survive for decades, leaving their traces imprinted on rocks scattered across the desert’s expanse, where the veins of the springs have gone dry, who survive as wanderers beneath a somber sky. They move farther apart and closer together. They adopt wisdom for a time and enter tyranny’s foolishness at others.

For our part, we make the thresholds of doorways and the tops of walls our seats, knotting the strings between outer space, where phosphorescent stars flaunt their charms, and the flood of a family environment in which tipsy hearts, fiery pupils, and debauched laughter mature gradually. Faces and names overlap, and time’s mockery of us is obvious when we see our specters, which are spellbound by our observation of them too; they see us exaggeratedly fortifying the border against surprise attacks that might land on us like flocks of birds in a mirage of migration.

For this reason, we experience a crystalline dismay about kinship when its ice spreads through ideas that we strive to prevent from reaching the minds of members of the family. The little doubts, the grievous maneuvers, and the impossible resignation with which one heart appeases another accumulated in departure, leaving the sparkle of brief hours during which the tongue has exerted itself as crumbs for the person who cries aloud about betrayal and assault. We spill out consolation, dandling the splintered group, extending our bridges over the gaps that prove baffling with the multiplication of the bitter effort of the family’s men and women who gather in circles round each other and who assemble with their kin in weekly meetings that are a fervent plea for reunion.

All this fidelity is daunting. All the love for the family is daunting. 

To be continued in 2012.

    * Author’s note: Hares is a character who appears in a different chapter of this novella. He is Aunt Marduda’s deceased husband, and his name is also the title of that chapter. The reference here is to Aunt Marduda’s continual excavation of his grave and exhumation of his corpse.

Translated by William M. Hutchins from Lil-Sawt la hashashat al-sada (Beirut: al-Mu’assasa lil-Dirasat wa-al-Nashr, 2000)


Munira al-Fadhel | Translated from the Arabic by William M. Hutchins

MUNIRA AL-FADHEL is a Bahraini writer and academic. She is the author of Al-Remora, a collection of short stories, For the Voice, For the Fragile Echo, a novella, and Woman, Place and Memory, a collection of critical essays on Arab women's writing. WILLIAM HUTCHINS, who teaches in North Carolina, was educated at Berea, Yale, and the University of Chicago. His translations appear in Words Without Borders, InTranslation at Brooklyn Rail, and Banipal Magazine of Modern Arabic Literature. The Arabic novels he has translated include Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street, and Cairo Modern by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (Anchor Books), Basrayatha by the Iraqi author Muhammad Khudayyir (Verso), The Last of the Angels (The Free Press), Cell Block 5 (Arabia Books), and The Traveler and the Innkeeper (American University in Cairo Press) by the Iraqi author Fadhil al-Azzawi, Return to Dar al-Basha by the Tunisian author Hassan Nasr (Syracuse), and Anubis (The American University in Cairo Press), The Seven Veils of Seth (Garnet), and The Puppet (Texas) by Ibrahim al-Koni. He has received two Literary Translation Awards from the National Endowment for the Arts.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2011

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