Sunday, November 04, 2007

Soheil Najm: Iraqi Poet

Iraqi pianist Sultan Alkhateeb

Seven Attempts to Portray Mr. President

Soheil Najm*


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
wandering around.


He leans against
empty space,
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


No citizens
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
Soheil Najm

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
raving, motivated.
Death is in a hair's breadth or less.
What will the wind say to the window?
They may come down...
Or...go away...
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.


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Blogger SB said...

I am relatively sure I have mis-identified this poet, saying he was an Iranian poet, when he lives in and war born in Baghdad.

His work came to us from our Iranian poet/translator/friend so I assumed he was Iranian -- and was incorrect.

My apologies -- and my thanks to Farideh and to Soheil Najm for sharing this powerful work with us.


7:09 PM  
Blogger SB said...

I have change the intro music and hope this will make more sense --
again apologies for mis-identifying. Blogging makes communication fast, also errors, and corrections -- so if you are reading for the first time you probably wonder what all this is about -- for the record, we first thought this poet was from Iran but a bit of research proves otherwise.

Blessings all


7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who can be offended of pure kindness? ... You are helpful and so much goodhearted. I am sure Soheil will appreciate your efforts.


(I'd written to say I'd fixed the error of assigning Soheil Najm to the wrong country and she wrote back with this kind note-- I've written to him as well, and hope he has internet access soon, and stays safe).


12:37 PM  
Blogger SB said...

I have re-phrased the last stanza of Soheil's poem "No Paradise outside the Window" based on this note from him. I'd written to say I didn't understand the last line or two, and his clarification holds a "meaning" westerners often miss -- that sense of time and history that tells people there that the imbalances of any moment will change in time -- and that the force of life and civilization are more powerful than the empire of the moment.

This is interesting.


Dear Susan,

If I have to paraphrase the last line in my poem "No Paradise outside the Window" I would say:
The enemies (the killers) will pass (they can not stay for good) because they are against life and civilization, even if they managed to spill my blood, and because they are dust (they are nothing).

9:30 AM  

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