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The Last Jar of Home-made Strawberry Jam أكتوبر 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — monaelnamoury @ 11:03 م

Days passed while Merna struggled with the translation of the English poem. She wanted to try her hand in translating a short literary work as a warm-up exercise before delving into a more complicated work. Seduced by the short, easy-dictioned poem by Stevie Smith, “Not Waving But Drowning”, Merna found herself in a professional deadlock. Not only could she understand every word, but she could feel herself actually drowning in the cold black sea as well. However, that did not make translating it any easier; quite the opposite.
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

First, there was the difficulty of determining who the speaker in the poem was. There was no punctuation to guide her. She knew instinctively more than linguistically that there were at least three voices. But how would this be beautifully translated into Arabic without violating the smoothness of the English poem? Second, there was her increasing identification with the action of the poem; a thing that made her about to write a counter poem for the poem rather than translate it. It was strange that she had always seen herself as a carrier of ideas from one mind into another. With this poem, she had no desire to carry anything; the readers should actually come and drown themselves if they want to feel the cold dark sea and experience the whirlpool of alienation and death for themselves. How could any translator think of translating that? How could you define the pain except by comparing it to other pains that the readers might have experienced? ‘Caesarean section is ten times like bikini waxing’, she had heard that somewhere. But what if the reader was a man who had never had bikini waxing; or any waxing?
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

The dead man lay moaning, able to talk! Smith did not say the ‘dying man’; that would have made it possible for him to moan or say something among his dying breaths. He was “dead” already. So, someone else must have said what was being said “ I was much further out than you thought”. Who said that? Smith? Someone on the beach, perhaps?
“Merna! “ Yes, Mum!”
“ Lunch is ready and your brothers are here”
“ Mum, since my brothers are here, can I be taken to the tombs to visit dad before it gets dark?”
The mother, still in black after two years of her husband’s death, remained silent looking awkwardly at her three kids. Both brothers expressed their discomfort about going. One of them lay down on the sofa murmuring something about how tired he was. The other one looked carefully at her from top to toe and made a sour remark about the unsuitability of her clothes to the visit the tombs. Merna said nothing. She was never allowed to the tombs unescorted because of how isolated and dangerous the place was. Moreover, she was in no mood of begging any of her brothers or starting a sterile argument about clothes fit for the living or the dead. She knew her brothers would reluctantly take her at the end, perhaps fuss about the validity of visiting the dead to start with; then stand purposefully speechless in front of the green tomb next to her, probably yawning. She would be too self-conscious of their bored presence that the words she had long intended to say to her father would choke in her throat. She would end up watching the green short tomb with the family name inscribed on it; not finding any connection between what she was watching and the fact that she missed her dad. She would look at the adjacent short tombs in different colors with the family names inscribed on them and think of a city full of colorful houses for dwarves. “ Never mind Mum, I will read some Quran for him later on instead of visiting.” Said Merna.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

She could not eat. She was heavily bleeding and her tummy throbbed with severe colic. Her child looked at her knowingly. She knew her mom’s symptoms that had recently made her eat very little. The girl assured her granny that mom would have something later when the pain lessened. Merna turned her chair to look at the news bulletin. T.V. was always on those days on the news channels; even during lunch. The Egyptian revolution was on a tricky crossroads which seemed vicious to Merna. A bright crystal liberating moment was dimmed.
With her hand on her aching tummy, she thought of her expected hysterectomy. She would feel better after it as the doctors said; relieved from the sudden spasm and break-through bleedings. Still, she could not take the decision whole–heartedly. It was just mysteriously too tough for her to give her uterus away. This was where she could feel her child receiving life as an unchosen gift one day. As a woman, this had been the center of her tortured being all her life, she thought. A woman! What was a woman. Scientifically speaking, she was too much of a woman because she had greater amounts of the female hormone than what should be. Now, after the hysterectomy, would she have to start looking for a meaning for womanhood all over again? Years had passed while she was searching and was now content that her life train had reached most of the search stations only to find vague meanings. And the operating table! She would lie down and watch doctors and nurses prepare their silver tools, hurry here and there paying her little attention or pampering her like a doll before forcing her to sleep. What would happen later? How would she feel? A black hole in her tummy? The psychologist told her that her uterus was not the center of her being; that her mind and soul were. She wanted to scream at her face. She did not want to be told anything by anyone. All her life she had been told how to feel about her body and soul and mind that did not represent her and she was filled up with resentment to her nose.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Was the man too dead always? Were we born dead? “ Would you like dessert at least, Merna dear?” “ ha!” The mother put a jar of strawberry jam on the table in front of her. “Your dad brought the strawberry himself and helped me make it as usual”. Merna smiled as she remembered her parents working together in the kitchen. Her mother did not actually need help making jam. It was their quality time in the latest years doing simple housework while chatting together. She dipped the tip of her finger and took some jam into her mouth, closing her eyes as she sucked it. She spread the rather sour mashed fruits over the interiors of her mouth; careful to swallow it as slowly and as intensely as possible. She kept her eyes closed for some time as if her dad would come out of the jar or radiate into her stomach. While her seven-year-old self was coming down the stairs at dawn, enchanted by the sweet voice performing the dawn prayer, secret strawberry- red roses magically unfolded themselves along the banister under her hand, along the steps under her feet like a carpet, and along the walls that she passed. Her dad’s voice was neither exceptionally beautiful nor musical, but while he prayed, his lonely sincerity flowed and wrapped the entire house. Nothing that little Merna could imagine might have harmed her at her solitary moment watching her dad pray. Sometimes, he would feel her peeping presence and ask her to sit on his red praying rug to listen to one of the Prophets ‘stories. “ So, dad, if you were told by God to kill me as He ordered Abraham to kill his son, would you do it? She asked. “ Abraham was a strong prophet and man. God asked him a proof suitable for his position. I am a simple man; God is too merciful to put me to such a test,” her father answered. She would go up to her room after he had finished; tucking their secret garden with the touch of her hand and feet again as she went upstairs.
After lunch, Merna hurried to leave before the dark. She wanted a safe drive on the highway back home. Thugs filled the streets since the mysterious revolution. As she was taking off her blouse, her lips touched a sticky strawberry-smelling collar. She licked the collar slowly spreading the sugary saliva over the interiors of her mouth. Her heart sank and she felt the dull colic again.
That night, her dad visited her in a dream. He held her tight and disappeared. In the morning, she buried her face in her unwashed blouse and finally let her tears roll down.

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