A Vow I wonder what you're doing now it's 2 AM and I can't sleep I've rumpled the sheets with worry the shape of me and you are you dreaming now it's 2 AM of the day past or days distantly hurts that stayed with you are you sweating or motionless are you breathing through your nose or mouth would you know if I were with you would you sense me the way a cat feels a presence from another world I'll put a pot of coffee on the stove and wear my one piece pajamas and walk on the wooden floors maybe look out the windows at the different views and the lights staccato watch the sky lightening the appearance of the trees and tomorrow
By Chinese Poet Yuan Hongri
Translated by Manu Mangattu
The Song of the Universe – Thy Song
Let thy breath be sweet
Let thine eyes shine as the stars
Reflect about what thou shalt see!
Thou shalt forget the words
The song of the universe is thy song
The peace of the universe is thy peace
If thou shall speak
It is almost like God
Let there be light! And there was light.
On Angel Wings Heaven-Bound
Pluck out a star from the night sky above
And let it sing to you within your cranium
It shall bring to you the interplanetary song.
Let thine eyes reach the edge of the Milky Way
The earth is just a small stone;
Yesterday is just a butterfly.
When the angel wings conduct you to the Kingdom of Heaven
Ah! That sweet lightning will indeed make you forget the world.
Home Sweet Home beyond Milky Way
Nestled in the wings of night
After the pearl gem sets in heaven
I climb to the roof of the earth
To gaze at the star.
Gazing at the star,
To witness the coming century, the city of the giant
Blossom like a silver Garden.
The Music from that mysterious Galaxy
Soothes my soul like the rain.
In the light, let my form alight
Back to my home, beyond the Milky Way.
Day and Night in Kingdom of Heaven
Last night, gazing at the stars
I saw those countless gems smile
Numberless from my past life
Limitless in the silver kingdom
Sprang from the light of thought
Forging ahead to superluminal chi
Five hundred years later, or, may I say
After a thousand five hundred years of the world
I saw a giant of a spacecraft
The eyes of those men and women
Were tranquil, serene as a diamond
Then I knew, once and forever: On the new planet,
In the Kingdom of Heaven, there is neither day nor night.
Often I have a foretaste of the future city of the giant.
The young giants in platinum Villas
The young giants in and out of the great mansion in platinum
And I’m one of them
In the body the sacred flame burns
On the head flickers the signs of zodiac
And the Diamond eyes glimpse the distant kingdom of heaven!
Bio: Yuan Hongri (born 1962) is a renowned Chinese mystic, poet, and philosopher. His work has been published in the UK, USA, India, New Zealand, Canada, and Nigeria; his poems have appeared in Poet’s Espresso Review, Orbis, Tipton Poetry Journal, Harbinger Asylum, The Stray Branch, Acumen, Pinyon Review, Taj Mahal Review, Madswirl, Shot Glass Journal, Amethyst Review, The Poetry Village, and other e-zines, anthologies, and journals. His best known works are Platinum City and Golden Giant. His works explore themes of prehistoric and future civilization.
About the Translator
Manu Mangattu is an English Professor, poet, editor, director and rank-holder. He has published 7 books, 73 research articles and 36 conference papers apart from 14 edited volumes with ISBN. He serves as chief editor/editor for various international journals. He has done UGC funded projects and a SWAYAM-MOOC course (Rs 15 lakhs). Besides translations from Chinese and Sanskrit, he writes poetry in English as well as in Indian languages. He was named “Comrade to Poetry China” in 2016. A visiting faculty at various universities and a quintessential bohemian-vagabond, he conducts poetry readings, workshops and lectures when inspired. After an apprenticeship in Shakespeare under Dr. Stephen Greenblatt, he currently guides 23 research scholars and mentors NET English aspirants.
Homoeroticism in Yousry Nasrallah’s Cinema
“A recent tendency in narrative film has been to dispense with this problem altogether; hence the development of what Molly Haskell has called the “buddy movie” in which the active homosexual eroticism of the central male figures can carry the story without distraction”
– Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema
The idea of comradery or buddy-relationship has been a smart ploy in cinema to get away with queer innuendos and homosexuality without facing the scissors of the censor or the disapproval of an alleged heteronormative audience. What if Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis decided to kiss in “The Defiant Ones”? What would the reaction of the audience be back then in the late fifties? Fast-forward and buddy-movies are still a thing in the Egyptian cinema. Some of them are just there for kicks, while others hide layers of subtextual relationships.
Unless blatantly scrutinized or demonized, homosexuality in Egyptian films and TV has been only been explored through a negative lens where the queer character appears as an abnormal, raging bull-type that attacks whoever it encounters or is associated with negative villainy behavior. Gay and queer characters have been shown as thieves, sexual harassers, usually meet their doom at the end or are shown to be redeemed and cleansed as heterosexual and thus worthy of being saved.
Yousry Nasrallah’s queer characters do not define their sexuality overtly. Their ambiguity does not stem from the need to hide within the strictly defining context but owing to the sexual liberation of the late-era where gender and sexual identity as a fixated concept leave a way for a more fluid gender and sexual representation.
Mercedes – Oedipus, shrugged
Starting with “Mercedes”, the main protagonist Nobi finds himself on a quest to find his brother. His journey takes him inside a gay movie theater surrounded by gay men who freely embrace and makeout inside the dark movie theater. On the big screen is a film showing two fencers hitting at each other in a fencing competition. The choice of a film showing this particular sport would be a clever way for Nasrallah to use the multiple erotic undertones of the swordsmen in their unrevealing clothing, their masks, and their gender-neutral movements which adds to the mystery of the moment on film. After finding out his brother in the middle of the crowd, the scene cuts abruptly to a funeral in a church for the Upper-class Coptic community, in a swift move that puts queer romance as an opposite to death, as if to symbolize how the rich Copts (representing the religious bourgeois of the Egyptian society) who hide behind traditions are dead inside while the impoverished (queers) whose moments of passion are in the dark, feel more alive than them.
Nasrallah uses his background as an aristocratic Christian from a family well-endowed with art and tradition to create an Oedipal-phallic world in Mercedes. Phallocentrism is the driving theme in Mercedes, a tale of Oedipal love and loss in the capital, one of the key themes that plagued Youssef Chahine’s –Nasrallah’s mentor- mind in addition to queerness, sexuality, the relationship between the East and the West and with the Other. Nasrallah uses one of Chahine’s muses, Yousra, the Egyptian diva and highly influential female actress, as the central female protagonist of the film and one of the factors of the Oedipal dimer. Using one of Egypt’s most iconic feminine and sexual figures not only adds to the weight of the film but ensures that it carries the multilayered story which Nasrallah tries to present. Yousra as a figure of motherhood has long been toyed with, consumed, and reincarnated in films and TV because the actress in real life has publicly confessed to struggling with fertility and multiple miscarriages. This iconic woman has been vocal about her vulnerabilities as much as her impossible beauty standards, and that in a way, granted her lasting presence in the hearts of Egyptian and Arab audiences.
In a way, “Mercedes” removes the male figure from the heterosexual relationship, so that the Oedipal dimer remains intact with only two central monomers; the mother and the son infatuated by their sole existence. The mother-son relationship kicks the male figure out of the picture and despite that not being a component of the queer film theory, Nasrallah most likely defies it by making Yousra (a woman whose lack of motherhood in real life and her public expression of that) play a mother figure within a complex Oedipal relationship. Nasrallah’s use of phallic symbols is as swift as the way he uses fans to represent a visual motif for the demise of the aristocracy, the lack of social acceptance within the elitist groups, and boredom.
One of the prominent figures in “Mercedes” are the two lesbian lovers, Nasrallah subverted expectation by making the Muslim character the sidekick to the Christian one, contrary to the norm in Egyptian cinema where Muslim characters are upfront and Christian characters are secondary to them, serving on their stories.
In one scene, Nobi is watching “The Well of Deprivation” a movie about a multiple personality disorder patient who practices daily catharsis for the character of her repressed mother through impersonating a promiscuous alter-ego. The dual nature of the other/the twin could be seen in the film in addition to the virgin/mother/crone complex through the women whom Nobi encounters on his journey to self-discovery. Starting with the stranger with whom he has a brief encounter in the wedding reception, Afifa the virgin belly dancer who is his mother’s clone, and his mother Warda who is the source of his great Oedipal agony.
The City – Boys will be horny
In the first scene of his 2000 film “The City”, Nasrallah shows the male protagonist Ali eyeing a hypersexual, salt-of-the-earth woman with lust. It is later revealed that Nasrallah uses Ali as his muse, on the footsteps of his mentor director Youssef Chahine, Nasrallah used the actor who played his alter-ego in “Mercedes” to play a version of himself in a film that coyly uses the artist/muse complex to explore themes about art, creation, the nature of homoerotic relationships, and fluid sexuality. The same Ali who lustfully eyes the woman in the first scene is the one whose character is the center of the complex relationship verse.
Nasrallah’s homosexual tension is at its best when male characters revert to camaraderie. He shows us a group of boys existing in a male-dominated world and enjoying male-friendly activities: in a circle sharing a joint, swimming naked, and passing around dirty jokes. His queer world is not a sci-fi verse, these boys are the byproduct of the average masculine culture, they just happen to take further interest in each other. In some instances, the characters share a rare moment of passion, such as in “The City” when the camera closes-up on Osama’s hand lingering on Ali’s shoulder after a friendly, non-sexual embrace, layering the moment with erotic undertones. In another scene, Osama cuts off his hair –which he takes pride in throughout the movie- to give as a token to Ali who plans on traveling to Paris. It symbolizes their intense relationship as buddies masquerading their homoerotic undertones. Osama and Ali’s intense friendship/love story could have been assumed as queerbaiting, had this film been somewhere outside the Arab world where homoeroticism on the big screen should only be represented menacingly.
Nasrallah’s use of close-ups usually hints at the underlying homosexual relationship or tension between the main protagonist and another male character, especially the early ones. In more than one shot, we see the camera zooming on the faces of two men entangled in an ambiguous relationship, even a moment. In “Mercedes”, there is a close-up on ex-policeman Mohamed Taher’s lips and the face of Nobi, the main protagonist. In “The City” scenes featuring buddies Osama and Ali make use of camera angles to emphasize their complex relationship. Whereas Osama seems desperately in love with Ali, unable to eye any other character in the film with the same passion and fervor that he saves for Ali, the latter adopts a more liberated, non-restricting sexual behavior, having a girlfriend, flirting with men and women alike while keeping a soft spot for Osama. The camera uses a fetishistic approach to their deep dark eyes, their feet, and their hands, especially in the intimate scene where they share a joint and when the whole gang is swimming in the Nile, singing and drinking beer, the sideglances that they exchange tell a million stories. In one scene reminiscent of the confessional by the bonfire in Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho”, Osama almost confesses his love for Ali; the pansexual with a strong heterosexual commitment that he seems careless to consummate.
The movie ends with Ali abandoning everybody; his girlfriend, his unrequited lover Osama, and even his dream of living abroad. He commits to his art; the only thing that gives him freedom.
Summersaults – A Summer’s Sunny Dream
In his debut “Summersaults”, Youssef Chahine’s influence is obvious on Nasrallah’s visual style and close-ups. The alternating gaze from male to female, with lingering shots on beautiful male bodies and faces, are in deep contrast with the scene of fellatio simulation when Yasser -the protagonist- licks blood off a peasant’s girl’s finger. Her face shows expressions of pleasure mimicking a woman receiving pleasure from a man. Her line “You are disgusting,” reflects how women from conservative societies usually associate sexual acts with grossness, in an attempt to make them less appealing or desired.
Yasser’s friendship with Leil, the peasant boy who taught him how to steal casual pleasures from an extended, boring life, is only a tale of forbidden summer romance between two kids, if “My Girl” was the bittersweet coming-of-age love story of the 90s, Ali and Leil’s summer awakening has been nothing short of unrequited, and bittersweet. “Summersaults” may be a great sociopolitical critique of the Egyptian aristocracy in the 60s, but it’s a tale of love that lived longer than the houses and the lands of the rich. At its core, this movie was milder in terms of homoerotic subtext, but the ending scene when Yasser hugged Leil in the darkness of the fields, threw back a shade to what was perceived as an innocent childhood friendship, to be analyzed through a different lens.
Later projects – Less daring, more structured narrative
Even in his most commercial project to date “Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces” Nasrallah hints at homoeroticism through the characters of Reda International the gypsy vagabond, and Galal the cook. Reda suggests that Galal marries his sister, looking lustfully at Galal, then pecking him on the cheek. The scene carries multiple layers especially when Reda approaches another character Ashour seductively to imply that to get his stolen paperwork he has to do the gypsies a favor. Ashour is then punished by castration, mirroring his non-compliance with the gypsy’s sexual advances, which could be a bold move within the narrative to punish a heterosexual character to be for refusing to indulge in a homosexual relationship; giving the queer character, the upper, more dominant hand, if albeit queer-coded. Although the actual reason for Ashour’s castration is stated as taking the honor of a virginal girl from a rich family –through marrying her behind her family’s back- the act of castration comes as a response to his defiance in the face of the gypsy’s sexual advances.
one deadly hoax whispers turn to screams as the number of dead start to rise this sure is one deadly hoax it's amazing to think such incompetence still exists in this day and age ------------------------------------------------------------------------ parading around as a man purple daydreams the coughing lady will kill us all just another child parading around as a man thank god she had an abortion any child of yours would destroy society as we know it another sunset alone destiny is a dancer that teases her big ass in your face for a few extra dollars if you're lucky she'll slip off her mask and lick you you don't want to know where that tongue has been ------------------------------------------------------------------------- from the inside out remember the crazy ones the ones that would call at four in the morning because the world was burning from the inside out the ones that would get you so hard you had to let go on the side of the road the ones that would ask for a little dirty talk right before the meeting with her boss the ones that told you you aren't special you have no talent you will be as worthless as your father that your death will be as meaningless as your life the ones that loved you only to change their minds the ones that stole from you owe you money to this day the ones that never bothered to remember if you still exist ---------------------------------------------------------------------- the day before thanksgiving the experts say we might get some snow the day before thanksgiving given the pandemic and how easily it spreads a little havoc on what is usually the busiest travel day of the year is probably a good thing --------------------------------------------------------------------- checkout lane eleven this fine as fuck black woman was working checkout lane eleven at the grocery store today i wasn't like these other lazy white fucks, i helped her and bagged my own groceries she thanked me over and over for doing so i laughed and said not all of us are evil i'd like to think she was smiling under her mask she doesn't want to know what i was doing under mine
It is eleven minutes past
eleven, on the eleventh day
of the eleventh month, &
I am driving over the Bur-
dekin Bridge remembering
Proust & wondering if it’s
not too late to start a band
which I might call Mark et
Marcel et Le Temps Perdu.
She was in the foyer. It
was late at night before
she managed to reach her
personal security team. They
would be with her within
the hour. She dropped her
purse on the divan. Coffee
was what she wanted, but
with no power, how could
she make it? Seagulls were
everywhere though the sea
was far away. Her neighbor
was practising for a coming
concert. She played cello.
There were no witnesses.
the second descent
The poor kid needed a
job. We were trying to
persuade her to go to
grad school or sell car
insurance. But then
the siege of London-
derry arrived over the
transom in the mail.
It was a short-lived
thing. She trusted
her instincts. The man
seemed to take stock
of the situation very
quickly. He looked
at her, said: I don’t
have a plan. She smiled.
I have enough for two.
I find it difficult
The Emperor was standing
near my bed. He is plain &
simple, but beautifully made.
A Corpse like a Homeland
My friend said that he would never disappear
Conceivably, the authority found him dead in the
park, he looked like a corpse like a homeland
the more I stayed with him, the more I sobbed
I wanted to read his motherland language of his
eyes, to learn about his country and his household
Unfortunately, it seems that he already read mine
I have forgotten to close the curtains of my griefs
I remember when he used to say that we are drops
of rain from the dark clouds falling miserably dead
on the green grass, where we live alone with a cloudy
mind and heart, we are no longer too loud but quieter
He struggled with being independent, from screaming
in tears and laughing whenever he attended a funeral
”nobody is my friend.” he used to say that while dreaming
of his dead friends from the war, until life closed its door
journey of a baby boomer from the country to the suburbs
by: Norman J. Olson
in 1959, at age 11, I moved from a small failing dairy farm in West Central Wisconsin to the slums of St. Paul, Minnesota’s East Side…
I went from a one room country school set in a sheep pasture, to Erickson Elementary which must have had about 500 kids…. a tough school in what today would be called an “inner city” neighborhood… we lived upstairs from my mother’s parents in a big old house on Desoto Street (which I thought was named for the car)… this had once been a nice house with a marble fireplace and a stained glass window over the front stairway, but had been divided into a duplex many years before and was now just another rundown house with brown shake siding on the rundown East Side of St. Paul… the only tougher area in St. Paul at that time was the black neighborhood on Rondo Street… which was demolished in the 1970s when the freeway connecting St. Paul to Minneapolis was by some mysterious chance run right down Rondo Street… through the middle of the city’s black neighborhood… so much for the “good old days…”
I remember the first night in the new apartment… it was in late fall so cold weather had set in and the apartment had a space heater… the farm house had been heated with wood or coal in a parlor furnace and had never been really warm in the winter… with the natural gas fired space heater, we were amazed that you could make the inside of your house warm like summer, even in the middle of winter and for the first week, we kept it at like 80 degrees in there… we were so amazed to be really warm in the winter…
I also had my eyesight checked for the first time that fall and it was discovered that I was extremely near sighted… I remember going to Dr. Shultz’s office in the old Lowry Medical Arts Building… going up in the elevator, still a great novelty to me… and then on the second visit, putting on the eyeglasses and having the world beyond arms reach come into focus… it was amazing to be able to see… I remember looking out the window of the optometrist’s office and seeing a billboard outlined against the sky and being able to actually see it… it was so amazing when the world went from being a blur to being something I could see… no wonder I was not much good at baseball, I realized that other people could actually see the ball… amazing…
going to school was kind of a culture shock… I was not stupid, but due to my very chaotic homelife, I was not very successful academically after the move… the teachers were kind and told me I was “college material” if I would only do my school work… but I just could not make myself do it… and so was embarrassed every day to be the one in class who did not have their lessons prepared and was always on the verge of failing… the teachers were mystified… I think I was mostly just unhappy and depressed… I would sit in class and draw… pictures of ships and hot rod cars… pictures of tough guys in leather jackets… I was not very good at drawing, so the teachers could not understand why making those crappy looking drawings was more important than doing my school work…
I did not have a lot of friends but I found that I was good at getting into fights… I thought I was a tough country guy and could take any of the city slickers… but it turned out that attitude got me beat up more than a few times… and those little Italian, Irish and German kids were every bit as tough as I was and mostly much better fighters… I remember this bigger kid named Karl… he must have repeated a grade because he was a head taller than the rest of us and in sixth grade already had his hair combed in a cool ducktail… and wore cool high school type clothes… while the rest of us could not have combed our hair if we wanted too and dressed like little kids in jeans and polo shirts… anyway, Karl had beaten me up without even breaking a sweat, or messing up his ducktail… and so, I waited after school one day… standing on the stone foundation of the school building which stuck out from the wall and made a stone platform about four feet off the ground… I waited there because I knew Karl always walked that way leaving the school building… and so when he went by, I jumped on his back… knocked him down and sat on him and punched for all I was worth until he started to cry…. then I got up and ran because I knew, if he got out from under me, he would kick my ass again… but from then on, he left me alone… I think he thought I was crazy…
but mostly, I just got beat up… I came home from trips to Wilder Playground with my clothes ripped and a bloody face… my mom told me to stay away from the playground… I did not stay away from the playground because that was where everybody went but I eventually wised up and started trying to avoid the tough guys… I did beat up one kind of effeminate kid that everybody else also beat up… but then I felt really bad about that for a long time… I still feel bad about it… so, had I won any fights, I don’t think I would have felt better about beating people up… than I felt about being beaten…
I had a bicycle that I had cobbled together from parts of other bicycles… and I liked to ride around… I did not go very far, but felt that I was somehow mobile… that I could go someplace if I really wanted to… and I knew that someplace, there had to be a world more interesting than the Eastside of St. Paul… a place like the neighborhoods I saw on television where everybody looked nice and had nice clothes… where nobody got in fights and where parents were sober and looked at their kids… I suffered terribly from night terrors, had terrible vivid dreams about being attacked by monsters, vampires and Frankenstein monsters, flying reptiles with human heads… my mother would hear me screaming and try to sooth me by telling me that it was just dreams… which helped a little, I think…
I really did not have any friends so would ride my bicycle around by myself… this bicycle did not have any brakes and so whenever I was on a hill, I had to drag my feet to stop and it really is a wonder that I never was run over… because coming down the Desoto street hill, I could not have stopped for cross traffic under any circumstances…
I had a cousin who lived in St. Paul, who would take me around to see the sights… we would take the bus downtown where we would climb up all the steps to the dome of the state capital to see the gold horses… there was an old mansion across the street from the state capital that housed the Science Museum… they had a mummy which we thought was really cool that was kept in a turret at the corner of the old sandstone mansion… which was kind of creepy but cool in a way that sixth graders could understand… we liked open stairways and knew of buildings downtown that had open stairways where you could look down over the stair railing and see the floor far below, once you had climbed to a high story…
I liked to make kites and made box kites out of paper or plastic wrap and lilac sticks… the kites flew very well… I once made a huge kite in the attic of the house on Desoto street out of a big sheet of plastic I found and some boards… I had big ideas!!! but I never tried to fly it… maybe I realized that it would have taken a hurricane to lift that stupid kite off the ground… and it would not have fit through the attic door anyway…
we lived on Desoto street for two years and then moved to suburban Oakdale… using my dad’s GI loan, to a housing development that was just being built up in an old farm field… the contractor had set up model homes and built basements on all the streets and then when a customer came, the contractor would build a house on one of the basements to the plan of one of the model homes… we used to find salamanders in the basements… pretty little wet, green lizard like creatures… and I buried time capsules all over the area… putting drawings, coins etc. into a jar and then burying the jar near one of the unimproved basements… this was very much a working class suburb and the residents were mostly people joining the “white flight” from the Eastside of St. Paul, to the bucolic semi urban fields of Oakdale…
so, my parents went, in about three years, from poverty stricken farmers to working class suburbanites… and I was along for the ride…
1959 – age 12 in St. Paul, a different (indifferent) universe
summer was sidewalks and
mostly empty streets… no
and violets… my own war
had finally begun…
and there I was
nearsighted, confused by
and smells… sad, frightened and always
in those days, feeling that all I saw
and felt and touched
was like a poorly done theater flat…
garish… phony… too bright
the entire city scene
and the crowd of people, especially the crowd of people,
was a papier-mâché, plastic, or even gold and ivory mask…
maybe somebody’s gentle
Protestant god hunkered
the mask… waiting to jump
out at the last minute… like
at a lame surprise party…
or maybe nothing… or maybe
deep wells of space and
time… a cosmos
of galaxies spinning like
above a black and
or maybe just the gray/black
streets of St. Paul…