The Tartan Shirt

Your letter’s tucked away

in the sleeve of a tartan shirt:

it flies towards you

and greets you.

Yet I fear that if they searched that shirt

it, too, would become afraid

and forget how to speak.

I fear that as soon as they set it free

it would run away, promising

never to return.

Then it would be just a shirt – nothing more.

Forgetting its ID,

it would walk slowly among the masses

and be ambushed

and stripped of its dignity

by His Eminence

who would do it harm.

It howls and cries… but who is there to call to?

“Help me, world! For shame!” it yells.

Then the officers start beating it,

and some might even

loosen their belts. And so

that venerable shirt of mine returns to prison 

and is accused: “Enemy

of the state.”

I’ll write your letter:

It will either reach your door

or remain in the shirt

and be lost.

…..

My dear young lady,

my loving rose:

It is to you

that the prisoner writes,

surrounded by soldiers,

soldiers everywhere.

He greets you

and misses you –

you, a song carved on walls,

you, the caravan of ports,

of doors,

the jailer of the man

who is a part of you.

You, the one who blocks the ears

and suppresses the truth

and denies the call to prayer

until all that’s left

are the claws of ghouls

crushing all hopes

and burning all dreams.

All that’s left

are the waterwheels groaning

and a thieving, toothless fox.

But all that’s needed

is a bit of faith

for your daylight to return,

for you to be fertile and green again,

for your fire to scorch

the cowards’ nests.

I hope your health returns, you beauty – 

you, the last old woman

and the first young lady

in the eye of time.

In the end, I’ll love you.

As a prisoner, I’ll love you.

As a free man, I’ll love you.

Even when you stubbornly oppose me,

still I’ll love you.

So ends the letter

of your lover, the prisoner

surrounded by soldiers – 

soldiers everywhere,

soldiers and walls.

Galal El-Behairy

Tora Prison

June 27, 2018