cover image Tahrir Suite

Tahrir Suite

Matthew Shenoda. Northwestern/TriQuarterly, $16.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-8101-3024-1

In this book-length sequence from Shenoda (Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone), "A dictator swallows the clouds for shade/ And the people are left beneath the sun/ As fire rages in their spines." Shenoda merges moments and terms from Egypt's stalled 21st-Century revolution (which began in Cairo's Tahrir Square), archetypes from ancient Egyptian mythology, and even grander visions of cosmic destiny. Three- to five-line stanzas, arranged three per page, follow the quest of a modern-day hero called Tekla (also the name of a Coptic Christian saint), who "could not make himself at home/ Would never understand the distances of heart." Tekla's quest echoes the story of Isis and Osiris, as well as the progress%E2%80%94or regress%E2%80%94of Egypt's revolution. Many stanzas offer stirring but vague political rhetoric: "Justice is the one staff for freedom's flag/ How can we share with the enemy our voice?" Most pages also incorporate pronouncements that could almost have come from papyri: "What becomes of a journey is read in the dust." Some readers will find urgent inspiration. Others may wonder whether Shenoda's disparate materials%E2%80%94at once populist and mystical, topical and eternal, aphoristic and narrative%E2%80%94have, like his traveling heroes and dismayed citizens, not yet found that for which they were looking. (Sept.)