Fall Issue 2022
Mandy Fessenden Brauer
CROWN OF THORNS
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
PEDIATRIC CANCER HOSPITAL IN CAIRO
Sitting in a hospital bed
waiting for what?
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
Cars and trucks crowd the streets,
But nothing is
when sickness arrives
and death is lurking.
INTERMINABLE TRIP ACROSS CAIRO
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,
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.