Even though public speaking is an occupational hazard of writing poetry, it's not something that comes, naturally, to me or that I've made peace with over the years.
Still, I could not turn down the opportunity to participate in a play (my first!) about post- revolution Egypt, that was seeking to promote peace and tolerance. This was, precisely, the art-activism that I admired and I was intrigued to learn that it was a musical.
My role, mercifully, did not involve any singing. All I had to do was stand on stage and read 3 poems of mine, addressed to Egypt, throughout the play -- so, I said Yes :)
Song and dance, actually, are an important part of Egyptian culture and played a significant role during our largely peaceful revolution. So, taking part in this production seemed like a safe way to virtually visit Home.
The name of the play was "Still Living in Tahrir Square" and it was to be staged at Bus Boys & Poets, a bookstore and cultural center in Washington DC with a conscience and a lively crowd.
(Interesting coincidence: While I had no hand in the making or placement of the signs, the one I’m standing next to was, actually, the name of the street I lived on when I was in Egypt!)
Rehearsals with the musicians proved to be a lot fun; I hadn't heard Arabic music in ages and, over time, some of the performing artists became friends of mine.
Soon enough, we were confident of the material and it was opening night. To calm my pre-performance jitters that evening, I stepped off stage as they were setting up, went to the next room where there was a bar and had some wine.
The bookstore and room where we were performing were quite packed, which was encouraging, and the event was enthusiastically received.
Below, is one of the poems that I read, a love letter to Cairo, as part of this tribute play to Egypt:
I buried your face, someplace
by the side of the new road
so I would not trip over it
every morning or on evening strolls
still, I am helplessly drawn
to the scene of this crime
for fear of forgetting
the sum of your splendor
then, there’s also the rain
that loosens the soil
to reveal a bewitching feature
awash with emotion
an eye, perhaps tender or
a pale, becalmed cheek
a mouth, tight with reproach or
lips pursed in a deathless smile
other times you are inscrutable
worse, is when I seem to lose you
and pick at the earth like a scab
frantic, and faithful, like a dog.