The Lost Button

by Fatena Al-Gharra

This morning, the shop windows look drab.
People hurry straight past the gaudy dresses.
Mirrors lined-up on the pavement wait for reflections.
The streets still deserted,
the sticky palms of passers-by are lined with sleep.
Then a solitary shirt
gapes wide open on the path -
what cast you in front of these mirrors?
Morning lifts from the heavy eyes of those wandering
            aimlessly.
Only the shirt knows their face.
Only the shirt -
yet their only pleasure is bargaining.
The shirt shivers in anticipation,
longing for someone who cares nothing for prices,
who knows nothing of sucking the desire from a button,
a button half-hidden, stitched to a label, lost in the folds
            of cloth:
the button touches itself and lets out a sigh of relief.
It was when her hand moved across the window
that she found this lost button.
Alert, lost in thought, she forgets the strangers passing
            her by.
She flushes with tenderness, with the secret aftermath
            of desire,
dazzling the window.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Anna Murison

The final translated version of the poem is by Sarah Maguire

Notes

We made two attempts at this poem: one in a workshop where we got half-way through and then had to call it a day, and then later on in our small group of translators from Arabic comprising Anna Murison, Sara Vaghefian, Samra Said and Worod Musawi. As ever, Worod was particularly helpful.

This is a highly eroticised poem, as are a number of Faten's other poems - a daring stance for a woman poet from Gaza writing in Arabic. It was Worod who enlightened us as to what 'the lost button' actually might be. Once we understood that, the rest of the poem gradually fell into place.

Non-native speakers of Arabic find it almost impossible to discern the pronouns used in poetry - which, of course, makes translating Arabic poetry all but impossible.

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