The Manuscript

by Abdellatif La‚bi

I had no idea that Satan - or Iblis to his friends - was a midget,
a gossip and a thief to boot.
        I was at my desk in the middle of writing when he came and sat by my side, silently. I'm no giant, but I was a full head taller. I was easily able look him over, noting each and every one of his distinctive features. In profile, his nose appeared to be long. His one eye had no lashes. A seven-pointed star was tattooed at the corner of his lips.
        Having thus examined and acknowledged him, I returned calmly to work. Well, well, a poem about Iblis, I said to myself. The minute I had this thought my companion reacted. I watched a very slender hand emerge from his pocket and place itself on my sheet of paper. For every word I wrote he added another with, I must say, a real sense of entitlement. But if I didn't like one of his ideas and I deleted it, he immediately responded in kind to one of mine.
        We wrote and re-wrote for a long time until the moment when the phone began to ring. I picked it up and waited for someone to speak. But there was no one there. I slammed the phone down.
        Iblis had taken advantage of this interlude to vanish, taking our manuscript along with him.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Andre Naffis-Sahely

The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop


This prose poem - as playful as it is profound - was a real delight to translate. In our version, we tried to capture some of the irreverance of the original French - such as in the opening lines, where we described Satan as 'a midget, a gossip and a thief to boot'.

'Iblis', by the way, is the name given to Satan in The Koran: a sly dig at religion from the secular poet when he writes says that the Devil is called, 'Iblis to his friends'.


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