Hedy Habra


Meditations Over the Eye of Horus

Eye of Horus
In Ancient Egypt, the Eye of Horus came to be known as Wadjet, the most powerful
of protective amulets made of gold, silver, lapis, wood, porcelain and carnelian. The
Wadjet’s six parts represented the shattering of Horus’ eye and was associated with one
of the
six senses as a specific fraction.

 1. Smell = 1/2
Triangle of Horus
             This part of the Wadjet points to the nose and looks like the nose.

I can still see the henna trees, awaiting like guardians by the two pillars at the entrance of
our home in Heliopolis. At night, the creamy blossoms released their pent-up fragrance,
enveloping us in its mantle, guiding us in the darkness while the bawwab, our janitor,
slept in his narrow room under the staircase, as though inside a pyramid. In the Song of
, the Beloved compared Solomon to a cluster of henna blossoms, his cheeks were
beds of spices: he was a bundle of myrrh resting between her breasts.

the moonflower blooms
only in total darkness
all eyes wide-open


Triangle of HorusMy friend Mona would bring to class her boyfriend’s handkerchief soaked in Old
Shem, the deferred touch of a lover’s approach. Or else, how could the pungent
smell of a coat hanging on a hook, reeking of frying emanations, cause a body to ache
with longing? And wasn’t it during his Egyptian campaign that Napoleon wrote to
Josephine, begging her not to bathe as he was on his way? Have we lost
the animal? My
cat sniffs dirty socks and underwear mouth agape with a mesmerized stare. I knew each
of my babies’ smell.

The skin remembers
the scent of essential oils
an invisible presence


Triangle of HorusShem el Nessim, the ‘smell the Zephyr’ spring festival originates in the pharaonic
feast of ‘Shamo,’ or ‘renewal of life.’ It became the Coptic ‘shem’ and coincides with
Easter. How can one shem the breeze and resist the fetid scent of fiseekh, the inescapable
salted fish placed in picnic baskets alongside green onions and hardboiled colored eggs?
We always skipped the fiseekh part and started the day at the zoo. We’d get brown bags
filled with dense paper balls tied with a wire. I can see us blow inside our fist before
hitting the ground with tiny firecrackers. They made startling sounds and released a
distinctive whiff … unaware of what would come generations later, explosions digging
holes in the asphalt.

mimosa’s pollen
nakha hanging in dense air
jasmine necklaces


Triangle of HorusBakhoor, incense swirls rising in sign language to ward off the evil eye. Ancient
Egyptians burned incense daily, a different bouquet for each magical spell or incantation.
In funerary rites the soul of the deceased ascended to heaven by means of that ritual
smoke thought to be the sweat of gods. And isn’t there godliness in the tree’s offerings,
when one thinks of the pain inflicted to the bark’s skin, each incision exuding a pearl-
shaped tear? My
dada, Mariam, loaded a brass pot, mabkhara, with coals and resins: she
mumbled prayers and litanies, making circular movements in every room, lingering in
the hallway under Mary’s Greek icon lit by an oil lamp.

volutes of blue smoke
featherlike fingers disperse
ascending spirals


the smell of ambergris, myrrh and musk embedded in crypts,
                    funerary and alabaster vials
the smell of blown up churches and altars filling interstices
                    and crevices, impregnating every pore
the smell of sandalwood and frankincense saturating icons
                    or centuries with the smell of holiness
the smell of gunpowder fueling anger in Tahrir Square as
                    faces are faced with indifference
the smell of lentil soup with toasted cumin served to crowds
                    to wet their heart with a comforting aroma
the smell of crushed hopes melting into soot and decay
                    as darker shadows rise tainted with indifference
the smell of bodies packed against one another for weeks,
                    sweat speaking of bonding and merging goals
the smell of honeysuckle mingled with wafts of golden mimosa
                    when Heliopolis was still a model garden city
the smell of molecules of tear gas in suspension in the air
                    as rioting and chaos takes over chanting
the smell of attritive desolation rising from mote to mote
                    still present in the vacated and cordoned off square




Hedy Habra has authored three poetry collections, most recently The Taste of the Earth (Press 53, 2019), finalist for the USA Best Book Award. Tea in Heliopolis won the USA Best Book Award and Under Brushstrokes, was finalist for the USA Best Book Award and the International 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 fourteen-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, her work appears in numerous publications. Her website is hedyhabra.com