Saudi Poet, Nimah Nawwab

Nimah reading at Gemini Ink, San Antonio, Texas. July 2004
Photo courtesy of Savanah Norton

    Born in Malaysia, Nimah Ismail Nawwab is a Saudi poet descended from a long line of Makkan scholars. An English writer, editor and poet as well as photographer, her essays and articles on Saudi society, customs, Islam, art, crafts, cuisine and calligraphy have been published in Saudi Arabia and abroad.
    Her poems on women, freedom, Arabian society and the younger generation of Saudis as well as the universal themes of love, loss and simple joy have been published online and in print. Nimah’s first volume of poetry, 'The Unfurling' from Selwa Press has become the fastest selling poetry book in the Kingdom and is currently a rising title at Amazon.
    Her recent tour, from Texas to the East coast at schools, social groups, private gatherings and universities culminated February 17th. with Nimah's reading from The Unfurling, followed by an enthusiastic book signing at Barnes & Noble in downtown Washington DC. The first Saudi to ever appear in our Nation's capital, Nimah's appearance set the store's attendance record for a noon time reading.

                                            The Unfurling  

        Selections from The Unfurling

        The Streets of Makkah
        The Longing

        Copyright Nimah Ismail Nawwab 2004
                All rights reserved


The Streets of Makkah

The streets of Makkah,
Long bordered with tall, tall homes,
White-washed homes, wooden homes,
Built on every corner, mountain top, ridge,
On the valley floor of the sacred land.

Tall, tall homes,
Centuries old homes,
Studded with brown aged latticed windows,
Overlooking mysterious labyrinths, winding walkways,
Alleys echoing with the passage of sounds,
Voices of those long gone.

Voices of families, friends all known to one another,
Welcoming strangers from other lands,
Spending sheeshah-filled nights,
Quite nights, loud nights,
In the open on the dakkah,
Hours of tea drinking, hours of tales,
Brimming with told and untold stories,
Of past generations, present generations,
Held in the collective memory,
A memory retaining the glorious past,
Undeterred by the present.

* Sheeshah a water pipe used by men and women
** Dakkah a raised bench


The Longing

How this one word
Entices us all!

Will the time come
For my ideas to roam
Across this vast land’s deserts,
Through the caverns of the Empty Quarter?

For my voice to be sent forth,
Crying out in the stillness of a quiet people,
A voice among the voiceless?

For my thoughts, that hurl around
In a never-ending spiral,
To settle
To mature, grow and flourish
In a barren wasteland of shackled minds?

Will my spirit be set free—
To soar above the undulating palm fronds?
Will my essence and heart be unfettered,
Of man-made Thou Shall Nots?



I release you my beautiful, terrible fear

-Joy Harjo

I let you out,
Your rule is at an end,
I let you out,
With all that is in me,
I let you go,
Pent up wrath,
Clawing at my heart,
Clenching my hands,
Running your despairing, devastating course,
Through throbbing veins.

I give you back,
To the oppressors,
Callous of human decency,
Giddy with hysterical racism,
Puffed with blind arrogance,
Thriving on their mastery,
Stealing, raping, conquering,
The Arab world, African continent, Asian lands.

I let you out,
As the agony of generations
Stamp our collective memory,
Moaning mothers,
Massacred young innocents,
Shamed helpless males,
Weaved in and out of the centuries.

I turn you out,
Out of my heart of hearts
Out of my soulful soul.
I let you out,
As women’s tears join
Across lands, deserts, oceans
Rivers of suffering,
Gushing and flooding,
The tributaries of time and place.
I let you go, Grief,
So you can no longer hold me in thrall,
Keep me from restful sleep,
Smothering my dreams,
With a bleak, murky future for my loved ones.


I let you out,
And pick up the mantle of joy,
Pulling its swirling warmth tightly,
Deeply drinking up bubbling pleasure,
Dancing and twirling
To the ecstatic, mighty music of human bonding,
Succoring me,
Bringing me peace, peace, peace, peace…

Oh, yes, Grief, listen well,
As the bloom of hope thrives,
Spreads its fine pollen,
Cultivating laughter,
Confidence to take you on.

As streaming, quickening hope enters my soul,
Courses through my blood,
Races through my heart,
Shines out of my eyes,
I let you go,
Shrieking, writhing in denial.

Trying and failing,
To survive in a barren land,
Banished from the light of day
Banished from the soothing dark of night.

Your rule at an end.