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Mandy Fessenden Brauer





Some things look better at night –

placed to optimum advantage

on the red granite windowsill

the crown of thorns, straggly in winter

with insufficient water, transforms

into an elegant, finely crafted sculpture,


overlooking endless aging buildings

in downtown Cairo. A few openings

are illuminated this cold evening,

their brightness contrasting with

innumerable rectangular shapes

that fill the darkened landscape.


I think of those I know struggling

to survive in this time of change,

of great uncertainty, some seeming

to fall back on ways that were

destructive then and perhaps are

more so now while others look


forward to new times, to the job

that is not quite in sight or to

the baby just conceived. Even

in uncertain times miracles do

do happen and as yet unnamed

infants give birth to hope.





Dusty plumes rise out of the large, cracked flower pot,

the fronds resembling grey-green tattered boa feathers

falling off a much used peignoir lying in a discarded heap.

Imprisoned in an ochre clay jail, the plant struggles while

beside it a yucca blossoms, impervious to poor soil conditions.


Like children in Gaza playing stick ball with rounded stones

while others clamor in and out of a rusty, abandoned truck

certain of escape through missing doors and broken windows

the palm will remain constricted by it earthenware limits.

There’s a certain relief in understanding boundaries


although they’re not always easy to recognize, given

that we are all infatuated by the illusion of freedom,

just as children, knowing they can leap through bent steel

any time, don’t understand that prisons aren’t always metal

and winning games with rocks can be a losing proposition







Sitting in a hospital bed

            waiting for what?

            a meeting?

            the voice of authority to speak?

            another sad, sick face to appear?

            a child missing a leg hopping back to his dismal room?


Outside the Nile flows

            as usual.

Cars and trucks crowd the streets,

            as usual


But nothing is

            as usual

when sickness arrives

            and death is lurking.







I sit in traffic again, the taxi not moving.

I try to find something of interest in huge

piles of Chinese blankets and cheap

children’s clothes beside the crowded

roadside but they just seem gaudy,

tasteless and unsubstantial.


There’s a donkey cart full of tangerines

and tired-looking browning bananas.

The poor donkey looks as bored as

his owner who is sitting on the curb

smoking shisha. Our eyes connect

briefly but without a smile I look away.


The obese cabdriver turns the radio

on and off, going from a sheikh reciting

Koran to Western music, loud and

incongruous with the continuous din

of street noise. He turns and says,

“Morsi no! No good! Mubarak good!


Texas good! Morsi very bad! Very bad!”

I suppose Texas is for me since I am

American. We have already determined

we can’t communicate more than this

as he takes me first the wrong way, then

the long way to where I want to go.


I try to cover my justified frustration as

the meter keeps up its annoying ticking.

For me this is a single trip across town

but for him it is a way of life, one likely

to remain his unpleasant plight so long

as this government is in power.


We pass another military establishment.

Soldiers in new uniforms walk talking

to each other. I wonder if they too would

like things to be different, and what

they envision for their own future,

let alone for their beloved nation.





Egrets are all over Cairo, filling trees

like huge, feathery beasts spreading

their angelic wings before blessing

trees and parked cars with thick white paint.


In the rice fields, each resting on one leg,

they are graceful ballerinas gazing over

their watery domain before taking flight

with looping bats and fluttery butterflies


In the city, though, they are unwanted

interlopers, these ethereal descendents

of dinosaurs, and like polar bears, wolves

and spotted owls, we no longer think


they, or a multitude of other creatures,

deserve a place at the table. What

we ignore, though, is that there is no

longer a place there for us either.







The streets are jammed

with old cars, luxury cars,

battered trucks, buses,

microbuses, motorcycles,

bicycles, donkey carts,

and stray cats and people

weaving through stalled traffic.


Men in tattered, colorless

clothing are attempting

to sweep into pitiful piles

desert dust infused with

grimy gasoline gunk,

candy wrappers, crushed

plastic bottles, plastic bags,


soda cans, flattened bottle caps,

cigarette packs, broken lighters,

dried leaves and old newspapers

but with the slightest of breezes

their futile efforts scatter dust

which whirls and climbs in

little swirls while plastic bags,


which rise like untethered kites,

cling to ornate iron railings

and straggly trees just trying

to survive. But isn’t that what

we are all doing, just trying

to survive in places more

and more inimical to life?


Where are the parks for

children to dig holes to China

or to replay a lost battle

but with a different ending?

Where are the lush gardens

for weary workers and their

tired wives to refresh and refuel?


Not here, not here, screams

the traffic, not here. Such

luxuries are only for the

privileged in distant, closed

compounds outside the city,

not here anymore.

Dr. Mandy Fessenden Brauer divides her time between Egypt and Indonesia, has been writing poetry since she was six years old but rarely sends it out. 'The pleasure is in the crafting of each piece.' One of her poems, GOODNIGHT MY CAIRO, has been illustrated and is a best-selling book in Egypt. She also writes and publishes in other genre in Arabic, English and Vietnamese.

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