Literal Translation by Suneela Mubayi

Crimson Shadows

Inspired by the Book of Zuleikha[1]

A poem by Nujoom al-Ghanem

Literal translation by Suneela Mubayi




And should Venus steal from us those meant for us; and Jupiter meddle with our fortunes

Then will not we let them strive to separate our paths

We will leave for the fates the rose of hopes

For perhaps the custodians of the shrine[2] will betray the traditions for our sake while

We ascend to god, who will grant us a door and a key of rescue

and forgives us because we want to descend from his heaven

Perhaps it is alright if we should fall once.




You set out following the tracks of the books of Helios[3]

You washed the roads with salt so that nothing of our smell

Remained trapped in the stones

I cried for you until my heart burned up with the wound of absence

And despite the power of sorrow I hid the rhymes of Hafiz for your return

And the shadow of the crimson stars

I left the windows wide open under the September sky

And when you did not come I learned to call out to the wind

I fell in love with love while waiting

and the burning bite of snow on my cheeks would heal my heart.

The full moon[4] that my desire made sick has become a home I take refuge in

and the deserts[5] the land for my dreams

As for the straits leading to [different] lands[6], they were the bridge that I will cross reach your heart

We were going to unbutton the shirts of evenings and treat each other with kisses

But you took the anthems by their hands and stayed there in

the “longer” oceans[7] testing out the impact of their weight and flipping through the waves


You journeyed within the journey[8]

and it became our love’s fate to part




Come here for night when the moon becomes full

In its shadow we will lay down on our island and lean on the south winds

Our fates will become dizzy from the severity of our passion and grant us an hour or two

While they are not paying heed we can taste kiss upon kiss

And so, like a kiss between clouds

We catch fire the nearer our souls get and the rain pours down onto the world

like kiss upon kiss



Do we bribe the [female] jinn[9] to smuggle us like the meter[10] in a poem then? And they be

contented with a tale about us in their book? And we be contented with kisses upon kisses?[11]

Which wind do we bribe? Is it the east wind or the west wind[12] that will choose us?




Or perhaps the north wind or a chemistry that god designs for us

For us to fall first into the night, like star after star

and for us to be their ashes and their innermost secret[13]

For falling in love[14] is a likely death and how beautiful it would be for it to be in our destiny


[1] The wife of Potiphar in the Biblical tale who attempts to seduce the prophet Joseph and then accuses him of rape when he resists her, she is not named in the Biblical tale but named in the Quranic version of the tale in Surat Yusuf. It inspired poems in Persian and Urdu, most notably “Yusuf and Zulaikha” by Persian poet Jami.

[2] The word used is sadana pl. of sādin the word in Arabic to refer to priests of pagan temples, including those of the Kaaba (holy shrine housing idols) in Mecca before Islam.

[3] The roman god of the sun?

[4] There is a separate word for “full moon” in Arabic (badr) apart from the generic word for moon (qamar)

[5] The word used here is mafāza, as opposed to the generic word for desert (ṣaḥrāʾ), perhaps because the root for the word is from fawz which means victory or overcoming, i.e. a place that represents the triumph of man’s will to survive

[6] The poet uses the term al-buldān (pl of bilād – country, land, etc) to mean the lands or the world beyond the desert

[7] The word baḥr pl buḥūr means both sea and poetic meter, and one of the prominently used ones in classical Arabic poetry is the called al-ṭawīl [“the long”]. The other word used for meter is wazn pl. awzan which also means weight hence the puns in the phrase.

[8] The poet uses the same word here twice, raḥīl for setting out on a journey

[9] The poet specifies the gender by using the female plural jinniyyāt, in reference to the supernatural creatures in Arabo-Islamic tradition who are formless entities and who, in Islamic tradition, are made from fire, as opposed to man, who is created from the earth.

[10] The word used here is wazn, which also means weight, both literally and figuratively

[11] The Arabic word for kiss/es (qubla pl. qubal) repeated throughout the poem is from the same root as qibla, the direction that Muslims must face toward while praying, ie toward mecca.

[12] The references to the various winds in the poem is evocative to the arab reader of tropes in classical arabic poetry where often the north or south winds efface the traces of the campsite where the poet’s beloved once resided.

[13] The literal expression used is sirr asrārihā ie their secret of secrets, perhaps to mean at the heart of their core

[14] Throughout the poem, the poet varies between two words for love – ḥubb and ‘ishq – the former is more the stock word for love in general, not just the romantic kind, while the latter, though also commonly used has a stronger sense of passion or infatuation in it, although it can also be used colloquially in non-romantic contexts to describe adoration of something.