PLEA TO FREE THE SLAVES ADDRESSED TO PHARAOH
B-ISMI-LLĀHI R-RAḤMĀNI R-RAḤĪMI
Your Excellency, Pharaoh Cheops (or KHUFU)
I am one of the slaves who built the Pyramid
And on this fragment of parchment is a plea
Written by a Poet Scribe on my commission.
If it does not reach you in time
It will be read by Pharaoh Ramses II or Nectanebo II
And if further delayed
It will fall under the eyes of a Sovereign
In millenniums to come.
But this is not a problem.
[The God RA and the next divinities,
In their unlimited generosity, will give a Dictator to the Arabs
For the poverty of the people and the prosperity of a few.]
… By your order the guards
Have jailed me
Due to my imprudent request for a wage increase
- One scant shat more per month –
[in the future, its actual value shall be quoted as one pound.]
As I told the Scribe, I am in trouble for the love of my woman!
There is little food in our hovel just a few dates
But there are a lot of face creams and unguents
Kohl (an eye makeup)
Henna for nails and hand palms and feet
Mirrors, tweezers to pluck herself and the manicure kit
Almost all the perfumed essences for the god Shesmu, oh my Pharaoh!
In spite of all these cosmetics
My woman feels I have offended her.
She has worn seven hundred veils on her heart
Arid like the Sahara desert
Useless were the bouquets of SESHEN (lotus flower) I have sent her!
Slave among the stone blocks of the Pyramid
Desperate in that hell that is home.
The damned, in the bazaar Khan el- Khalili
Where people talk about everything and in particular about the turmoil of Tunis,
Have known about a mysterious fragrance of jasmine
Blown by the Shulùq (sirocco)
That mixes with the unbreathable air of our town.
Those time-wasters say that the fragrance of jasmine
Is equal to the Kyphi of the Pharaohs
Of which the historian Plutarch wrote
“It facilitated people’s sleep, it helped to have good dreams,
It relaxed people, it drove away everyday concerns,
It gave a feeling of peace”.
And it was composed of 16 substances:
“Honey, wine, raisin, Cyperus, resin, myrrh, rosewood;
Adding lentisk, concrete, bitumen, scented reed, patience,
Juniper, cardamom, spiced stem, …
it is no coincidence, but according to formulations specified in the sacred books”.
(…) In other documents they talk about 60 essences, among them
Pistachio, mint, cinnamon, incense, …
[In the daily report from the General Intelligence
The famous Jihāz al-mukhābarāt al-ʿāmma
You can read the following:
(…) about the flavours that by now are not in the list,
Further investigation is needed,
Because they could contain
Hallucinogenic substances and therefore be subversive!
(…) In fact a contagious hysteria
Has fallen in the streets of al-Qāhira
Where hundreds of women tear off their chadors
And facing hallucinations and delusions
They shout “O’ balna, O’ balna” (we hope for the next).
Oh divine Cheops
If this parchment
Is to be read not by You
But a Shah or a dictator of our time
I shall frankly tell them,
That the society in which we live
Is not a Fascist Regime
But a fiction shot in Western TV studios
To discredit the Arab world.
After having said this, the crazy Egyptian women
Want that cursed scent of jasmine!
But I, poor slave, where will I get the Pounds to buy it?
Nine slaves, desperate like me,
Got burned as torches at Mīdān al-Taḥrīr
Becoming martyrs for a flower!
Setting oneself on fire seems to have become the latest fashion in the Arab world.
[The above it was written on the hieroglyphics of the stele of AL MISRY AL YAOUM during al-Rabīʿ al-ʿArabī
In 1432-1433 of the Islamic calendar]
While heavy insults circulated on nameless clay tablets
Oh Lord of the million Special Forces
That cost a billion pounds,
The UN say that your slaves
Live on less than $ 2 a day.
Understand the secrets and the message of people
Forget about the modern capital
To be built in the heart of the desert
With Saudi funding.
Also if I am inebriated and shocked, oh my Sovereign,
The words that I dictate to my Scribe
Are those that come out from the mouth of Nur-ad-Din
We are born into this world bringing nothing with us
We die taking nothing out with us
And in the middle
In the eternity that rejoins
In the short blink of an eyelash
We argue to own something.
Since I smell the stench of the prison cell’s dust
(on account of the pound I requested of you)
Oh my Sovereign
I confess that my nostrils too
Smell the scents, but perhaps are āyāt
New olfactory wonders.
My Scribe Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi
That I have not yet introduced to you
He writes in his closing statement-plea
In my defence and to defend hundreds of slaves
Taken to trial into the Courtrooms that
“What you breathe in the air of al-Qāhira
It is not a scent of jasmine but of roses
Roots and branches are
The fragrant sweat of Muhammed
And, by his strength, the half-moon of rose
Grows in a full moon now.
For slaves as we are, it means
That the roots of our Soul find essence
From the fecund earth of the illusions
Fertilized by the riot
For which there are no more days forward
Other than those to be lived inside jails.
The voices of the illiterate fathers
Always repeat to us
Verse 59 of the sixth Sura of al–Qurʾān
He has the keys of the Invisible that only He knows
Our ancestors told us that was
The Messenger Abû Hurayra
To refer the words of Muhammad
“Ninety-nine names belong to Allah
- One hundred minus one –
They are memorized only by those who will earn Heaven.
To tell the truth HE is the Unequal, HE loves the odd things”.
I am in Hell and I do not know if I shall go to Heaven,
But if you want here is the list of the 99 names!
- الله Allâh
2. الأحَد al-Ahad
3. الأعْلَى al-A’lâ
4. الأكْرَم al-Akram
5. الإله al-Ilâh
6. الأوَّل al-Awwal
7. الآخِر al-Akhir
8. الظاهِر az-Zâhir
9. البَاطِن al-Bâtin
10. البارِئ al-Bâri
11. البَرّ al-Barr
12. البَصِير al-Basîr
13. التَّوَّاب at-Tawwab
14. الجَبَّار al-Jabbar
15. الحافِظ al-Hâfidh
16. الحَسِيب al-Hasîb
17. الحَفِيظ al-Hafîz
18. الحَفِيُّ al-Hafiyy
19. الحقّ al-Haqq
20. المُبِين al-Mubîn
21. الحَكِيم al-Hakîm
22. الحَلِيم al-Halîm
23. الحَمِيد al-Hamîd
24. الحَيّ al-Hayy
25. القَيُّوم al-Qayyûm
26. الخَبِير al-Khabîr
27. الخَالِق al-Khâliq
28. الخَلاّق al-Khallâq
29. الرَّؤُوف ar-Ra’ûf
30. الرَّحْمَان ar-Rahmân
31. الرَّحِيم ar-Rahîm
32. الرَّزَّاق ar-Razzâq
33. الرَّقِيب ar-Raqîb
34. السّلام as-Salâm
35. السَّمِيع as-Samî’
36. الشَاكِر ash-Shâkir
37. الشَّكُور ash-Shakûr
38. الشَّهِيد ash-Shahîd
39. الصَّمَد as-Samad
40. العَالِم al-‘Alim
41. العزيز al-‘Azîz
42. العَظِيم al-‘Azhîm
43. العَفُوّ al-‘Afuww
44. العَلِيم al-‘Alîm
45. العَلِيّ al-‘Aliyy
46. الغَفَّار al-Ghaffâr
47. الغَفُور al-Ghafûr
48. الغَنِيّ al-Ghaniyy
49. الفَتَّاح al-Fattâh
50. القَادِر al-Qâdir
51. القَاهِر al-Qâhir
52. القُدُّوس al-Quddûs
53. القَدِير al-Qadîr
54. القَرِيب al-Qarîb
55. القَوِيّ al-Qawiyy
56. القَهَّار al-Qahhâr
57. الكَبِير al-Kabîr
58. الكَرِيم al-Karîm
59. اللَّطِيف al-Latîf
60. المُؤمِن al-Mu’min
61. المُتَعَالِي al-Muta’âlî
62. المُتَكَبِّر al-Mutakabbir
63. المَتِين al-Matîn
64. المُجِيب al-Mujîb
65. المَجِيد al-Majîd
66. المُحِيط al-Muhît
67. المُصَوِّر al-Musawwir
68. المُقْتَدِر al-Muqtadir
69. المُقِيت al-Muqît
70. المَلِك al-Malik
71. المَلِيك al-Malîk
72. المَولَى al-Mawlâ
73. المُهَيْمِن al-Muhaymin
74. النَّصِير an-Nasîr
75. الوَاحِد al-Wâhid
76. الوَارِث al-Wârith
77. الوَاسِع al-Wâsi’
78. الوَدُود al-Wadûd
79. الوَكِيل al-Wakîl
80. الوَلِيّ al-Waliyy
81. الوَهَّاب al-Wahhâb
82. الجَمِيل al-Jamîl
83. الجَوَاد al-Jawâd
84. الحَكَم al-Hakam
85. الحَيِّي al-Hayiyy
86. الرَّبّ ar-Rabb
87. الرَّفِيق ar-Rafîq
88. السُّبُّوح as-Subbûh
89. السَّيِّد as-Sayyid
90. الشَّافِي ash-Shâfî
91. الطَّيِّب at-Tayyib
92. القابِض al-Qâbid
93. البَاسِط al-Bâsit
94. المُقَدِّم al-Muqaddim
95. المُؤَخِّر al-Mu’akkhir
96. المُحْسِن al-Muhsin
97. المُعْطِي al-Mu’tî
98. المَنَّان al-Mannân
99. الوِتْر al-Witr
- Names extracted from the authentic Sunna سنة
Which of the 99 keys will open the door of the Invisible is a mystery!
The hundredth key
The one that opens wide the door of the prisons
I know that you own it!
Open those doors, oh my Pharaoh!
Nobody can live in a country
Where he Who rules lives without eyes
While the innocents cry and pray.
If the scent of roses is Muhammed’s sweat
the sweat of the forehead of people who work is the scent of bread
That feeds the mouth of the world!
Set free those who are in chains,
You cannot send to jail the scent of bread!
Mario Bellizzi, July 2, 2017
Author’s note explaining the circumstances of the poem
This poem was read on the occasion of a poetry meeting-festival, held on an itinerant basis in the Arab countries facing the Mediterranean. Summer 2017. I had an opportunity to read it in Alexandria in Egypt; I agreed with the Egyptian organizers about the possibility of reading it, considering that it was a ‘hot’ topic in that period, as I remembered that Giulio Regeni had come to bad end. But there nobody knew about Giulio !!! They Googled it and then exclaimed: “Ah but that was politics! We make poetry!”. I had to insist to sort out the situation. After reading four lines of my poem, they said it was a “political” poem and therefore suggested Idesist. I also had love poems in Arabic … just in case. I complied with their wishes, since I was a guest. But when it was my turn to read my poems, a fellow Tunisian activist poet from the Festival organization ordered everyone to read the poem. Me in Italian and he in Arabic …. It was warmly received and they asked me for copies. I had photocopies made and there was a sort of leafleting among those present. The poem was conceived because in those days activists and trade unionists were being tried in the courts … for strikes organized some time before. In Egypt and especially in Alexandria there was a lot of tension in the air! … The poem was translated into Arabic by my Libyan poet friend Ashur Etwebi, a political refugee in Norway. You can find his translation posted below. The rest belongs only to us.
Mario Bellizzi writes poetry in Arbereshe, that is the language of a linguistic minority scattered in southern Italy descended from Albanian settlers who fled their country in the XV and XVII centuries after the death of Albanian national hero Skandenberg and their country’s takeover by the Ottoman empire. He was born in San Basile, a small town in the province of Cosenza, in Calabria. He publishes in Arberesh journals both in Italy, Albania and Kosovo. He has published Chi siamo, Perec 1997, and Bukura morea, Castrovillari, 2003. In 2008, he published Goodbye shin vasil and in 2018 his bilingual poetry collection Lo specchio e l’ombra -Pasiqyri e Hjea. Poesie fuori luogo dai Balcani al Mediterraneo.
Cover art: Street scene from Gaza spring 2021, photo by Ahmed Masoud.