“This Country: Ghazal for Abdel Halim Hafez” by Zeina Hashem Beck

Zeina Hashem Beck


Time has come knocking on my door, and I’ve told him there’s no healing this country.
I’ve loved and I’ve forgotten. Hozn isn’t merely sadness—she can cling, this country.

On stage, I gather hozn with my hands, gesturing here, and here,
and here my mother died three days after I was born to sing this country.

I’ve written letters from underneath the water. I’ve grown gills. I’ve waited
a long time in my backstage womb before my first breath, my beginning, this country.

My first concert was on a rooftop, like moonlight, like flocks of home-bred pigeons.
Later, I became a dark nightingale. No one could stop my heart from conquering this country.

When Abdel Nasser was defeated, I sang that Masr was washing her hair by the water,
the same water that has gifted me my disease. Still, she loves the morning, this country.

I traced a line from the Qur’an in the air the last time I left for a hospital in
London. Girls threw themselves off balconies the day I died. She has beautiful ways of keening, this country.

One of my songs ends with Laughter and starts with Love. Sing it. I had a radio
near my hospital bed. I could hear Cairo clearly, could hear her ring, this country.

from 3arabi Song
2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

[download audio]


Zeina Hashem Beck: “Abdel Halim Hafez was one of the most popular Egyptian singers, very well-known across the Arab world. He died in 1977 at age 47 in London, where he was undergoing treatment for Bilharzia, which he had caught as a kid. He was nicknamed ‘The Dark Nightingale.’ Stanzas 1, 3, 5, and 7 contain references to his songs. The word hozn is Arabic for ‘sadness,’ and Masr is Arabic for ‘Egypt.'” (website)

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