The Octagon


I am fond of my place
Look alikes
singular, layered
Each of us each other’s features
living museum
beating, breathing
grand exhibition
my memories
There, the Octagon lives with me
her soul dwells
* *


أحب مكاني لأنه يشبهني

و أنا أشبه مكانٌ واحدٌ بملامحٍ شتى

مكاني هو متحفي الحي

معرضٌ لذاتي و ذكرياتي

تسكنه معي ”الثُمانية“… هي روح المكان

* *


Distorted is my childhood
if I do not remember
Egyptian mirrors of a living room
projecting parallel lives
Malaysian silk paintings
dancing against white majlis walls
Japanese floral vases
guarding exposed hallways
the mashrabiya my father designed
dressing naked bended arches
The first museum I reside
within me, it resided
* *


مشوهة هي طفولتي إن لم أتذكر

مرآة صالتنا المصرية

لوحات الحرير الماليزية على جدران مجلسنا

الفازات اليابانية المزخرفة بالورود في نهاية الممر

و المشربية التي صممها والدي فألبس بها طاق الدرج

كان المتحف الأول الذي سكنته فسكنني

* *


Not all museums
pregnant with things
My grandmother’s house
she the masterpiece
Palm frond baskets
she weaved
roughened hands
dark fingertips
burnt from morning tawa bakings
She never liked things
nor clutters things make
Mashmoom flowers
stories and songs
decorated rooms, walls, hallways
My grandmother left
her mashmoom withered away
but echoes of her stories
rhythms of her songs
* *


ليست كل المتاحف تعج بالأشياء

في بيت جدتي

كانت التحفة الوحيدة هي جدتي

سلال السعف التي تصنعها بيديها

و أطراف أصابعها المحروقة بطاوة الخبز

كانت لا تحب الأشياء ولا الفوضى

و زينة مكانها الوحيدة هي المشموم و الحكايات و الأغنيات

رحلت جدتي

و ذبل المشموم

و بقيت حكاياتها و الأغنيات

* *


When I move to another place
“pack lightly”, they said
“bring bare essentials”, they said
So I closed my bags
my roots
* *

قالوا لي

عندما تنتقلين لمكان آخر

كوني خفيفة الأمتعة

و خذي فقط الأساسيات

فحملت جذوري و أغلقت الحقيبة

* *


Enfolded in the folds of
my grandmother’s baskets
my father’s mashrabiya
I find my Octagon
Garnished glass smell
like fresh Egyptian musk
an arrival announced just before mine
My father’s hands
cut, drilled
hammered, polished
two children
* *


“بين سلال جدتي و مشربية أبي، أجد طاولتي”الثُمانية

جلب زجاجها المزخرف من مصر قبل مولدي بقليل

صنعها بيديه،

فأصبح لديه طفلتين

* *


Seasons turned
Found a place to call my own
my parents’ nest I searched
for roots to carry
Our eyes met
her arms held out
“pick me up!”, she said
I take her to a carpenter’s shop
* *


قبل انتقالي لمكاني الجديد، بحثت عن شيء يشبهني في منزلي

و تلاقت النظرات

“!رفعت ذراعيها : ”خذيني

أخذتها للنجار لطلاء جديد

* *


She looked at herself
a happy little girl
frilly dress
bows and barrettes
“Perhaps not everything new is bad”
she twirled
* *


أطلت على نفسها

كمن تزهو بفستان جديد

قالت:  ”ربما ليس كل جديد سيء”

* *


In a new living room
glistening with pride
gracious presence
solid wood
tattooed in Islamic patterns
rainbow splatter
she stands erect
Every time I read: “He is Allah
in Kufi
in her heart
Through my body runs
a shiver
* *


توسطت صالتي العارية

و انصعت لكبريائها و حضورها

لخشبها الصلب، و نقوشها الإسلامية الملونة

و كلما قرأت ”هو الله“ المنقوشة بالخط الكوفي في منتصف زجاجتها

سرت في جسمي قشعريرة

* *


Every piece of furniture I bring to her
She sits up straight, she boasts
“the hands of a craftsman made me
Born in this house
with the owner of this house
My glass from lands
where endless springs sprung
stained in Nubian colors
lined with gold
But you, sitting there,
what factory made you?”
* *


مع كل قطعة أثاث جديدة أقتنيها

تجلس جلستها المستقيمة، و تتباهى

صنعني حرفي ماهر”

.ولدت في هذا البيت مع صاحبة هذا البيت

زجاجي جاء من مصر، معشّق بالألوان و خطوط الذهب

“و أنت، من أي مصنع أتيت؟

* *


When long days end
my octagon waits
embracing a hot cup of tea
Immersed in each other
she and I
familiar, intimate
we empty our heavy souls
to be refilled
for a brand new day


بعد كل يوم طويل

“تنتظرني ”الثُمانية

تحتضن كوب الشاي الساخن الذي أعده

و نغمر بعض بالألفة

و نفرغ أرواحنا لنعيد تعبئتها ليوم جديد


Dear Reader,

Our story began with a conversation between two friends, Ghadeer and Sara, walking back to the university library after a quick dinner in Dinkytown on a cold evening in December 2017. Fueled by the crisp air that filled our lungs, our feet rushed through crowded pavements and across busy streets, making their way through a fog of breath exhaled by warm bodies and buildings. Soon enough, our minds wandered away in denial, escaping the painful one mile walk under the cloak of another harsh Minneapolitan winter. Naturally, we both started thinking of home: Bahrain, or should we say: Bahrains?

Ghadeer: “Sara, have you ever been to a cultural festival in Bahrain? Recently, they have been trying to go with modern themes, culture with a “modern” twist, especially the food!”

Sara: “Ah! I miss food festivals in Bahrain! Lgaimat, khanfaroosh, harees, madroobah! I have frozen drool on my face right now and it’s your fault.”

We giggled for a moment, before our giggles faded into frozen wisps among the loud masses of the living trying to seek refuge from the arctic winds.

Ghadeer: “Speaking of food, what do you think about the so-called balaleet bites?”

Sara: “Those sound heavenly, but I don’t think I have tried them. I’ve had basboosa bites though. Those were delicious – yum!”

Ghadeer: “Isn’t it interesting how our traditional food is transformed to finger food and commercialized for the sake of being trendy?! I’ve always found it annoying. I do not understand why people have to ruin our traditions to be cool – to accommodate modernity. It’s like we are re-appropriating our own culture!”

Sara: “Hmm… I never thought of it that way. Is it a bad thing though? Aren’t traditions always in formation, always in the process of becoming? I mean, most of our Bahraini food is a fusion of other cuisines: Indian, Iraqi, Iranian… right?

With those words, we finally arrived at the library building to study for our finals. We stomped our feet and shook off the snow before walking in.

Ghadeer: “I’ve written a blog entry about this once, why I dislike balaleet bites. I’ll share it with you the next time we talk.”

It wasn’t before the following summer that we picked up on that conversation for AGITATE!. At her first attempt, Ghadeer drafted an article in English, a narrative based on her Arabic blog post. However, this preliminary attempt strayed away from her envisioned inquiry, the genre could not capture her frustration nor curiosity. The text was cold and confined. Its flow was turbulent. It was Sara’s feedback that invited Ghadeer to consider a different literary genre, something that would allow her thoughts to run freely and for her words to flow like the spring waters of Adhari. Since then, the blog entry that animated Ghadeer’s writing evolved into a serendipitous poem in Arabic, a genre and language by which she is able to see, hear, and feel places and times. Through its rationales and alphabetic scripts, she takes her readers on an intimate journey, walking them through untold stories of the child she once was and the places she once inhabited with family members, living and nonliving. Ghadeer brought all of this to her friend and now neighbor, Sara, and asked her to translate her text once again, to make her words and worlds accessible to an English-speaking audience, dwelling in realities seemingly so far away. Rather than claiming a melancholic attachment to an original text, Sara’s translation of Ghadeer’s poem emerges from unlived memories unfolding in parallel worlds: memories of grandmothers’ bedtime stories cradling us to sleep, the warmth of tawa bread freshly made for our breakfasts, the sweet scent of mashmoom flowers braided in our hair, and the sounds of timeless songs echoing in our neighborhoods’ alleys.

Sara: “Ghadeer, should we revisit the Arabic poem in light of the English translation? We might want to make some changes…”

Ghadeer thought in silence for a moment.

Ghadeer: “No, I think we should offer both texts as they are. Each has a soul of its own.”

Thus, the poems we offer here are an attempt to claim a literary fidelity of a different kind. Rooted in multiple acts of translation and mediation, of agents and actors, the fidelity we claim through the lure and blur of poetry is one that carefully agitates with a genealogical reading of the text (Merrill, 2009). While inherently intertwined with each other, our writings take a life of their own, troubling in effect false claims to sovereign authorships, to authenticity, to faithfulness, and truthfulness. In so doing, they invite us to ponder over the ways in which stories are told, through gaps that may never be filled and melodies that may never be unsung.


Ghadeer and Sara


Merril, Christi. “The After-lives of Panditry: Rethinking Fidelity in Sacred Texts with Multiple Origins.” Decentering Translation Studies: India and Beyond, edited by Judy Wakabayashi and Rita Kothari, pp. 7594. Philadelphia: John Benjamin Publishing, 2009. 

Suggested citation:
Alkhenaizi, G. and S. Musaifer. 2019. “The Octagon.” AGITATE! 1:

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