Saturday, December 29, 2007

Iraqi Poet: Mohammed Mazloom


Mohammed Mazloom*

The ancient, tired, barbarians were defeated
but too much death remained after their fall.
They crossed into the shadows without
a pavement or a guide!

They were defeated —
flags were colored by the bleeding eyes of their armies,
their own eyes blurred like the eyes of those killed,
a deviation of massacre.

They planted their sky with trees, like a forest of swords
which gleam at sunset
but do not pray for eclipse.

And so the sky was for them abandoned,
like the sands of Ur or like feasts
after the invited guests have fled,
and strangers fed in their place.

But the exhausted barbarians had gone,
shall we then end our story?

Newcomers follow a sleeping
old map, are awakened by the didactic
of its story.

The barbarians I knew had already passed
over the old maps, over ruin here, there!

And they scattered, their profiles hidden
in a paradise of debris.

And death commenced to menstruate
out of them, while they gathered to erase
their personal histories —
as the next oncoming hoard gestated.

And I saw Cavafy alone
awaiting their arrival to sew in his exile
a sky of barbarians,
and one great bird spreading out a tale
about our most recent chaos,
about the ancient sky,
about people who come down
to Mesopotamia (the land of blackness)
and collect their map of rains,
so the new invaders can cleanse holiness
with the water of their killed people,
where dwarfs have a shadow, where trees
and flags are embroidered
with the vast hunger of my people.
What was the difference if they stayed,
these Pharos of the oasis,
or if they fell —
fertile solutions in the memory,
if they erected nations from oblivion
or if they dwelt in passing shadows?
What was the difference
if the invaders lost their way -
to those who lived here before they arrived,
who hesitated before disaster?
They were gathered for poison, in nights of memories -
what if they remained, wild against assault,
refusing to scatter
while the barbarians hovered at
the border, threatening!

I am among them.
The mirrors see what they see.
To what buffoon will the voyage
be widened?
The great fire occurs
and Rome vanishes
its wreckage gleams in the dark anew:
freedom and barbarians.

*Anabasis means a military campaign on the march inland from the sea.

Translated by
Soheil Najm
Poetic editing in English by Susan Bright

*Mohammed Mazloom: Born in Baghdad in 1963.
Published books: Commissions-Never to be stipulated, Beirut 1992;
The Delayed-Passing through the mirrors of suspicions, Beirut 1994;
The Sleeper and his autobiography of wars, Beirut 1998.

Note: Here's the poem by Constantine Cavafy referenced above.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

By Constantine Cavafy, 1864-1933, Translated by Edmund Keely.


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