Salah Jahin’s ‘Cigarette Ash’

The people, sullen and forlorn,

Trailed along

Like a jilted lover

Or an oppressed soul

Longing for the dawn. My eclipsed moon was bleak. …

Back in the day, the moon was as a child of mine,

Covered in down feather like a bird. And so was I, 

Aimlessly wandering the streets

As the night spread out against the land and I,

Dark, evil, 

And oppressive,

As dark as a million soldiers in raven dress

And unsightly boots

Revelling the night away. She holds an MA in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Sussex, a PGCert in Translation and Interpreting from the American University in Cairo, and a BA in Translation from October 6 University. Salma Harland is an Egyptian-born, UK-based translator and academic researcher. She has some published literary translations from and into English and Arabic, including a translation of five selected poems by Sudanese-American poet Safia Elhillo (published in Romman Magazine, 2020). In a blink, I fell from the heavens to Earth,

But the land was also bleak:

Soot blackened the coffeehouses

As radios broadcasted the same old drivel. “May she grow up in your grace and good days.”

She grew up, but not in my embrace;

I lost her in a heedless moment. I found a pencil in my pocket

So I wrote this song of anguish. Oh, moonless night,

As black as kohl without bright eyes. Salah Jahin’s ‘Cigarette Ash’

Salma Harland translates the legendary “Cigarette Ash” («تراب دخان» ) written by the legendary Salah Jahin (1930-1986) in 1967:

Cigarette Ash

By Salah Jahin

Translated by Salma Harland

I found a pencil in my pocket

That has been worn down to the nub. I used to cradle her, then strut across the neighbourhood

And say: “Come and see my dear child.”

“Bless her; she is a good omen!” they would say. …

And here I am, aimlessly wandering the streets

As the night weighs long and dark upon the land and I. …

It was pale, feeble, and adrift,


Among cigarette ash and peanut skins. Back in the day, she was young, as green and crisp as key lime. I drifted further into the night with a heavy heart

—For the moon had promised to meet me by the Nile

But she left me stranded—

I searched for her in Haram, I searched in Qalaa and Bulaq,

I left no stone unturned in Imbaba and Warraq,

But she was nowhere to be found.