Abu Shreek “literature-ating” at the Sixth grade level.
Abu Shreek is not a big fan of English poetry. Its main tools lack the strength that could make it special: Similes and metaphors are not powerful enough and can be equally and more effectively employed outside of poetry. The rhythm is mainly created through the (end- word) rhymes and when the rhymes are missing it becomes almost impossible to feel any musical tempo to the words. Many times the ambiguity and the exaggeration in the use of words overpower the point. Of course this is a mere personal opinion that is not meant to undermine those who write or appreciate this art. It may be the result of the exposure to the “specialness” of Arabic poetry with its strict rules and its multiple associated sciences. (البلاغة و العروض ).
One day, a slacking student asked for help in a home work (Reads: I have no chance of passing anyway, so can you please at least save me the embarrassment of missing another homework). The assignment: Write a story to describe what happened to the man in Simon Armitage’s “About His Person” explaining how and why he died using the objects in the poem to build the story. Two problems: 600 words and convincing the teacher that the below-average student did actually write it. (Hoping neither of them is among Abu Shreek’s three readers).
So here is the poem, followed by the short story based on it:
ABOUT HIS PERSON
Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,
a library card on its date of expiry.
A postcard stamped,
unwritten, but franked.
A pocket size diary slashed with a pencil
from March twenty-fourth to the first of April.
A brace of keys for a mortise lock,
an analogue watch, self winding, stopped.
A final demand
in his own hand,
A rolled up note of explanation
planted there like a spray carnation.
but beheaded, in his fist.
A shopping list.
A giveaway photograph stashed in his wallet,
A keepsake banked in the heart of a locket.
No gold or silver,
but crowning one finger
A ring of white unweathered skin.
That was everything.
It has been a month since she has left and he decided he had enough. He rubbed the itchy spot on his finger-where the wedding ring used to shine-for the final time, grabbed a piece of paper in one hand and a small bottle in the other. He just cannot take it anymore. Maybe someone like him was not ready for someone like her in the first place.
He was supposed to be a writer. He could have got a job in a factory or a farm like all his friends. He even had a chance to get an office job, with a desk, a phone and a decent salary. But he was always fascinated by the art of words, and he was determined to make the world hear him.
But realizing a dream comes with a heavy price. Sometimes, life can be very hard for a struggling unknown writer. Money was not always available, but he did not care. He did not care that he hardly ever ate a decent meal. He did not care that he could not afford to go to a movie theatre, or attend a party. He-kind of-did not care that he had no friends. Books made up for all of that. The minute he sat in his usual corner in the library, and started reading and writing, he forgot about hunger. His entertainment was the stories he read and his friends became their characters. At times he felt unhappy, lonely and hungry, but he always managed to be “satisfied”.
Until that one spring day. Early spring days were the hardest for him. The warm sun, the blooming flowers, the singing birds, and the lively streets full of smiling faces. All that reminded him how miserable he is. But that day when he arrived home, he pulled out his little diary, just like he does every night, and he wrote:
-“Today, I saw the most beautiful creature on earth, I smiled and she smiled back…”.
The following night he opened a new page and wrote:
-“Today, after hours of hesitation, I managed to talk to her. She was even more fascinating when she (timidly) talked to me…”.
-“Today, I handed her the poem that I wrote especially for her, and I quickly left…”
-“Today, I walked her home. She told me how much she hated working at her father’s shop. She liked the poem so much, and to show how much she appreciated it, she gave me her picture. I am staring at the picture as I am writing this.”
-“Today we decided we want to get married. And we did. April 1st is the happiest day of my life”.
It did not take a long time before she decided to leave him. The few years they spent together were very hard on both of them. His career never took off and her demands never stopped. He loved her a lot, but that was never enough. And now he is back to the brutal loneliness. He thought about asking her to come back. He was going to write her something begging her to change her mind and come back mind and return. But what should he write? A new poem? The same old poem?
While he was staring around the room, trying to come up with the perfect words: the only thing missing from the ready-to-send card, his eyes caught a crumbled piece of paper that seemed familiar. It was another one of her shopping lists that he was never able to cross a single item off of. He reached in his pockets, took another look at the list, and pulled out the loose change. He counted the money, looked at the clock that has not moved a single tick during all of last month, and he thought to himself: “This should be more than enough for a bottle of fine rat poison”.