“The Key”

A Poem by Ines Abassi, Translated by Koen De Cuyper and Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg

September 11, 2020  By Ines Abassi, Koen De Cuyper, and Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg

The last key I carried
dangles alone on the key rack
like a corpse at the gallows
the key to the house that is no longer our house
that won’t be our house tomorrow
is rusted with memories
and coated with the desert sand we left in our wake
and the house?
maybe the walls that soaked up our screams
and the sweat of our tired words
will repaint themselves
our words so often splintered
veiling the radiant light with colors
your back is naked, my hand is naked
light separates us
ideas separate us
it’s not the door
nor the roads
but your naked back that separates us
I needed tears and many poems,
other poems whose days bruised them blue
I needed anguish to bruise my heart black
I needed all our choked words
and the sour air heavy with our breaths
heavy with anger and all the lies
a tress of lies you braided
I undid it
with the patience of a woman long blinded by love
the key to the house that is no longer our house
that won’t be our house tomorrow
I threw it out with a heap of memories


Home, Two Lines Press

“The Key” by Ines Abassi, translated by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg and Koen De Cuyper, from Home: New Arabic Poems, published by Two Lines Press, 2020, as part of the Calico Series. Reprinted with permission from the author and translators.  

Ines Abassi, Koen De Cuyper, and Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg
Ines Abassi is a Tunisian writer. She has published three volumes of poetry and two collections of short stories. Her first novel appeared in 2017. From 2014 to 2016, Abassi served as the executive publisher of Dar Anahla Saghira. Her work has been translated into English, Danish, French, Korean, and Swedish. Koen De Cuyper earned an MA in translation from the University of Leuven, during which time he spent a year in residence at the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech. He currently lives and works in Rabat where he is the scientific information specialist at the Netherlands Institute in Morocco (NIMAR). Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg holds an MA in francophone world studies and an MFA in literary translation, both from the University of Iowa. Her translations from the French and the Arabic have appeared in Anomaly, Asymptote, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Poet Lore, Two Lines, and elsewhere. Nuernberg lives in Morocco, where she serves as an editor-at-large for Asymptote and works as a translator for film and TV. Her co-translation of Raphaël Confiant’s Madam St. Clair, Queen of Harlem was published by Diálogos in January 2020.

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