Soheil Najm: Iraqi Poet
Iraqi pianist Sultan Alkhateeb
Seven Attempts to Portray Mr. President
He is alone in the hall,
red cup in hand,
feather hat on head.
Across the window, there are scattered corpses,
knocked down trees
and a handful of rabid dogs
He leans against
his eyelashes stuck to the glass,
his toothless mouth chewing unintelligible words
about our vanishing glory.
And in the distance the royal guards
are sitting around a table,
barking at each other.
like a rotten apple,
from his apertures stream out
black snakes and false secrets.
As he dozes,
he builds, out of his fantasies,
a wailing country
and awkward speeches
Full of pride,
he stands on the edge of the world
holding the bell of the final alarm
to ride back to the beginning of creation
as if he were trading two fires:
that of God and that of the battle
profit by his wisdom
as he mixes flaming colors.
The citizens have no president
shaping their reactions
to his lengthy tales
about his killing the ghoul
and his raging seas.
Biting his fingernails
with his bleeding gums,
he mourns over his falling image.
Translated by Haider Al-Kabi
* Poet and translator, Soheil Najm, was born in Baghdad in 1956. He has published two collections of poems: Breaking the Phrase, Beirut: Dar Al-Kunuz Al-Adabiyah,1994, and Your Carpenter, O, Light, Damascus: Dar Ninewa, 2002. He has also translated and published more than ten literary works. He lives now in Baghdad.
No Paradise outside the Window
He is busy with his scattered papers.
The muzzle of the old pistol
is looking at him in provocation.
Poetry is the noblest thing in language,
and the whiteness of the papers is death.
They may knock his door.
The distance between him and the pistol
is penetrated by time.
Did I leave it loaded?
The barrel may be rusted.
The poem is a butterfly's wing,
adjectives are burdening it
and a lack of verbs deconstructs it.
The pistol is a lying monster.
If they come…shall I leave the paper?
Or will I ambush them from behind the window,
then open the door
and hold the poem up to their faces?
My fingers become pens,
their ink is poured
on the whiteness.
The words are sparrows
flying over paper to perch on the handle of the pistol.
The pistol is still
Death is in a hair's breadth or less.
What will the wind say to the window?
They may come down...
The shame is when Hamlet eats his hands,
and the image here is unfinished,
no fingers left to gather on the handle of the pistol,
no desire to dance with hesitation,
so agitation spreads across the paper,
and bullets are teased by
crowds and rust.
When they come or alight?
Shall I’ll sit…
or ready my soul?
The letters are glass injuring splinters.
I wish I perceived already
that the enemies are not fantasies—
The distance is narrowing
when the poem seems to drink its ink
from his hands' water.
My paradise is here, not outside the window.
A sweet sleepiness is flowing over things,
their voices insist they are present while they are absent.
How do I know that the trigger has two flaccidities,
that time between us is just an invention to the last step?
I ask heroism to be late,
until the live coal of the poem is extinguished.
Then I will return to mock at Hamlet’s long sword.
Why does this night put on two horns?
Why does the image of death reflex on
the world, the labyrinth?
The pistol is a gypsy with teeth of fire
waiting for celebration music.
What obsessions are flourishing
under the cloak of the impossible?
Why do words disappoint their pleasure's terms?
Why do words alone
carry the gamble?
Why are our intersections
monopolized by mad roads?
The sky is a night dropped
on my world.
I wish they already knew
that I am not a bystander.
The killers will pass
because they are against
life and civilization.
Even if they come,
and their pistols laugh,
even if they manage to spill my blood
they are empty dust.
Translated by the poet.