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On March 20, 2017, poet and human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor was arrested and subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison in the UAE. On this, the third anniversary of his arrest, we are honoured to be publishing Adam Baron’s poem for Ahmed, ‘The Egret’, alongside translations of Ahmed’s own poetry.

The Egret’, for Ahmed Mansoor*

by Adam Baron, 7/1/20

I was startled to see you
There on the slim, curving shoreline
Of the small Irish island where
We have our holiday home.

White.
Surrounded but
alone.
Rare
Beautiful
Hunched and
Wrong.

This was some years ago.
Now you have spread to the
Lincolnshire marshes I grew up
Beside. To Suffolk, to Kent,
To Aberdeenshire,
Common as the carrion crow,
So that, each time I turn, the
Shock is a little diminished,
The wonder lessened so that
Sometimes,
I don’t even lift the
Binoculars
To my face.

Which brings me shame.

For you are still rare,
Pale ghost
As raindrops are rare
Running down windows on
Soft days
Rare as buttercups in summer meadows
As Corots in the Louvre,
As caresses from a lover,
Rare as eyes that see and
Lips that smile and grin and press and kiss
And speak.

For there are places
You are not.
Egret.
Perhaps even the place
You first came from
All those centuries ago
Before you sat up into the wind
Spread your wings
And started your slow
Twisting flight
Towards us.

*Those conducting Ahmed’s surveillance had a code name for him: ‘The Egret’.

What are all those stars for?

by Ahmed Mansoor, translated by Tony Calderbank

What are all those stars for?
And the night
And the clouds
And the sky erected like a tent in the desert.

In a place like this
Everything is
Luxury.

Another Love

by Ahmed Mansoor, translated anonymously

When will you come?
My insides froze on the barrow
and the coat melted in the wind.

I blew the whistle
I nodded with my heart one million times
and one million times the galaxy fell.

But you
Did not come


All that is
A hair from your braid
Fell into the dream
And I found it

Finally.

Final Choice

by Ahmed Mansoor, translated anonymously

I have no other means now
but a tight-lipped silence in the square and through corridors
Since I have tried everything
screams, chants, signboards
obstructing roads
and lying on the ground in front of the queues
Cutting through the procession with eggs, tomatoes, and
blazing tires
Hurling burning bottles and stones

Stripped naked in front of the public
Carving statements in the flesh
Walking masked in front of cameras
Dressed in shackles
Tied and chained to garden fences
Swallowing rusty razor blades and splintered glass
Hacking of fingers with a machete
and hanging myself from the lampposts
Dousing the body with kerosene
and setting it aflame

I have tried all this, but you didn’t even turn to look
This time, I swear
I won’t utter a word, or move
I will stay the way I am
until you turn to look
or until I am petrified

They’ve gone

by Ahmed Mansoor, translated by Tony Calderbank

They’ve gone
And I am left alone
Poking about in the ashtray
Trying to find a pulse.

Like a celestial body

by Ahmed Mansoor, translated by Tony Calderbank

Like a celestial body we burned bright
And went out like a jellyfish

Just for you
All these waves hidden like a wreath or a bomb
Just for you
A blend of the spirit and annihilation
Just for you
The entire
Cemetery.

Boredom

by Ahmed Mansoor, translated anonymously

How much time has passed,
Oh clock,
And you are ticking ?!
My heart,
Is beating as well,
But the tear had dried
And the bullet,
Is still,
Penetrating.


Cover image: Adam Baron and Ahmed Mansoor, by Gianluca Costantini

Adam Baron is the author of five successful novels and has, in his time, been an actor, comedian, journalist and press officer at Channel 4 television. He now runs the widely respected MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University London.

Ahmed Mansoor is an Emirati activist, writer, blogger and engineer. In 2018 he was convicted of breaking United Arab Emirates defamation laws, and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He has been in solitary confinement since his arrest in 2017.

Tony Calderbank is the British Council Director in Bahrain. He is an English translator of contemporary Arabic literature and was educated at Manchester University, where he studied Arabic and Persian.

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