The Smell

We don’t know where it came from. We first thought the house needed ventilation. We later lit all sorts of scented candles, all to no avail. Each whiff made us dizzy and we became sensitive to every waft of air. The smell kept getting stronger but more elusive, ranging from a potpourri of spices and herbs to a mixture of dung and chemicals that made us want to throw up. It could be mistaken for sweet or foul pollen, depending upon the time of day, and it insidiously invaded all spaces. We started wondering why the smell carried memories, mostly deranging ones. 


We decided to seal all doors and windows. We took turn in steaming pillows, sofas, rugs and most surfaces, then gradually retreated to a room not too distant from the kitchen. Lately, 

we grew wary of calling friends or family, lest the smell would be carried by voices as though surfing over the radio waves. Even books became the repository of different odors. The moment we flip through any of its pages, a strange halo envelops us leaving us with shortness of breath. But at least we can turn the tv set on and drown within another world, preferably one without subtitles, the most foreign the language, the best since the smell is conveyed with meaning.




First published by Live Encounters

Life After the Insidious Crown's Demise

People will learn sign language to communicate. Lovers will read mystical poems, eating each other with eyes: touching will only be permissible after a long hot shower while clothes get cleaned. Skin against skin will become a scarcity. After all, having once known the danger of kissing will forever dampen desire. Intimacy will be restricted to committed relationships and couples will avoid holding hands in public; they will learn to wait till they get home and wash their hands and faces.


Every public bench, bus seat, taxi seat or airplane seat will become suspicious and no one will

go out without a special UV sanitizing device. At the office, no one will switch desks or use someone else’s computer without risking serious altercations. Affection will be demonstrated with artistry: glances will become more sophisticated, even a smile will have a number of oblique symbolic meanings.


Paper money will disappear and you’ll wipe clean your credit card after each use. Glove manufacturers will make a fortune, offering from transparent gloves to featherlike and softer

than silk or to even the memory of a touch. But don’t worry, they will be available for every budget. People will start stroking their own heads and hair as they talk to their children and grandchildren who will automatically feel the warmth of their caress. Skin will be lonely

and more sensitive, moisturizing lotions will become indispensable to avoid dry, aging hands.



First published by Live Encounters


On TV5, the French restaurant owner keeps

repeating: this is just another flu.

With a large smile, she presses

every newcomer against her generous bosom:

‘on se fait la bise,’

both planting a heavy smooch on each other’s cheek.


In Milan, my friends’ children flock to bars

and around the piazza while in Bangkok

monkeys invade the deserted streets.

In Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, penguins freely

visit their neighbors through the glass exhibit,

pacing corridors like guards in formal attire

Dolphins and swans enjoy Venice’s transparent waters,

refuting the city’s legendary smell.


No planes threaten birds in flight nor the purity of the air.

Flowers grow on cracks, on walls, on the sidewalk.

The grass has never been greener.

An apocalyptic silence permeates large cities

and everything seems superfluous,

all the things on the to-do list can wait,

as long as we have our supplies,

as long as we’re sheltered.




First published by Live Encounters

Or How Can Woven Whispers Be Deciphered?

                               After Women Against the Night by Helen Zughaib

What do such repetitive patterns mean,

inserted visual poems, wordless speech

lost in a scarf or a shawl, shaded emotions

hiding under every motif, inside every angle,

an echo of Philomela’s cries bursting in silence,

each colored thread telling of the outrage,

of a beauty flawed, of a body no longer hers,

of a tongue severed as a trembling stem.

See how carmine blood runs thick

between her thighs, down her throat,

suffocating her. Only deft fingers would feel

the softness or ruggedness of each fiber
and weave relentless nightmares, whispering

night after night against the darkness.

First published by Live Encounters

Or How Can We Ever Cut Down to the Bare Essentials?

He kept retreating from room to room, feeling the weight of all the furniture and mementos staring at him like deceased relatives. It was as though the house wrapped layers of time around him, confining him inside a pod about to burst open. For a while he’d only use his bedroom and the kitchen. He eventually retreated to the sunroom. Its walls lined with bookshelves comforted him as he lay on the wicker couch opposite the bay window. He soon realized he needed fewer meals and only one change of clothes.

His lightness became manifest when feathers seemed to grow out of his bones, filling him with a desire to embrace the movements of the wind. He tried to get rid of plants, of his archived papers, of the photos that couldn’t find their place in the abandoned albums and the books he knew he’d never read or reread. Finally, the day came when unable to break all ties, he clung to his tabby, the photo of a woman, a purple-lipped cattleya, a few books, anything he could hide under his strong wings, slammed the door and left.



First published by The Bitter Oleander

Hedy Habra is a poet, artist and essayist. She has authored three poetry collections, most recently, The Taste of the Earth (Press 53 2019), Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award, and Honorable Mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Tea in Heliopolis won the Best Book Award and Under Brushstrokes was finalist for the Best Book Award. Her story collection, Flying Carpets, won the Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention and was finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. A sixteen-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the net she is a recipient of the Nazim Hikmet Award. Check out her website here

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Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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