Monday, December 03, 2007

Poems from Iraq

A Poet in Exile

Bassim al-Mureiby, translated by Soheil Najm

I ask you poet:
Where is your country?

Clouds erase a teardrop
or fasten it like a dot above a letter.
I ask you poet,
when seven vultures augment your power.
complete your legend —
a fog of mystery wraps your eyes,
you say ... you hid it in a teardrop,
you hid it in a rose under your shirt—
I ask you poet
where is your mirror?
You point a finger home,
to the horizon of the soul.

And gold is the filing of silence,
and like a fortune-teller has gold,
mirrors and a mask,
you affirm
a teardrop's grimace
is a never lying mirror.

*Poetic editing in English by Susan Bright

About the poet:
Basim al-Mureibi: Born in Diwania (Middle of Iraq) 1960.
Published books:
The devoid of flower, London 1988.
Three collections, Beirut 1997.
The bitter land, Beirut 1998.

Sparrow Rubbed by the Flute
by Soheil Najm, translated by the poet


It comes to me
that I may see what is invisible
in the pleasure of speech,
in a night walk
in the crawling of roses on myrtle.

It comes to me
that I may traverse the sea of experience,
embrace the sea of language,
since the world transforms obsession
into a song and it's secrets into color.
This is my soul approaching
a stranger's fantasies,
casting afar to an abstract place,
rushing ahead to tame time,
passing with no hope for rescue
from the kings of drowning.

It comes to me
that I prefer resistance to leaving
a mistake exaggerated and gleaming
and accept this walk
through stagnant water.


I may not do well in the art of living
and I may stumble past light,
because love is a mutable speck, dust,
and I have nothing but the invisible guarding me.

To expel my whims
I structure myself
on the extension of a flower.
I stretch out my arm
to plant happiness
on the pores of meaning.
"Hey, meaning,
what if the victorious ones sat
in an open pocket?"
I am qualified to advise you—
you who live
in the navel of ink,
to single out a ray for death—
I may advise oblivion
not to escape
lest wind strip it
or waiting snip its
Visions emerge
from me
and never come back.
Colors emerge too,
drinking their fog,
rising from me
surfaces excite wide flower beds.


These are my blue voices
and my gardens wet with intimacy.
These are my rains
and my horse
that is kneeling down
over the noise.
This is my time,
time of azure skies
and speeding orbits.
As if
I wanted what he didn't want—
I wanted my wing and my shadow.
I wanted the map of the lost soul.
I wanted my broken life.
I wanted to sing
the eyes of the stars embracing me.
I wanted to propagate wishes
and to set free language
I wanted…
tomorrow in a morning like this.

*Poetic editing in English by Susan Bright.

About the Poet:
* 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 Y
our Carpenter, O, Light,
Damascus: Dar Ninewa, 2002.
He has also translated and published
more than ten literary works.
He lives now in Baghdad.

The Song of Basrian Wanderer
by Soheil Najm, translated by the poet

Between wake and sleep
I open my heart, hers is like a door
and I knock.
She shouts, "Who are you?"
People are asleep
but my woman awakes from fear,
bare feet at the sea, she
covers the sands with her heart,
wraps herself with the instant
and water.
Who are you?"
Hoarsely I call back.
My memory falls away
at the "Breiha"(1) roads.
She says,
"O vague, remote man!"

Here it is again, the closed door.
Should I knock?
In a bell tumult below al-Ashar (2) River
my soul splinters.
In front of the Indian market (3)
it will resurrect.
Our beloved will desert us today
to her boat across the river…
What do you want?
No heart is here to beat for you,
no stones to reverberate your night echo
and the river is strange.
It hurries at night to shelter
and al-Korah (4) is woven
from waves of war and sorrow —
the remains of a child lying
in the river bed.

What do you want?
Neither the beloved cares
nor the sea,
nor a ghost of guards at Bab-Zubair (5).
I drown in al-Kandaq (6)
and smell love as ash.
I drink the voices of our pleasures
when they are date palms
dancing when the jinn surprises them.
What do you want?
Troops of sharks snap my heart.

The door doesn't open.
The Shanasheel of Basrah are broken with tears.
I shout, longing barks in my bosom
waiting for the latch.
I look up and darkness sets in.
Windows of the city disappear in clouds.
My steps are diverted to date palms
which illusion plants along my path.
I call out, "O, if rivers could sleep
on a wish, or a drop of light…"

Who is this wanderer?
A monster lies deep within me,
"O, be closed my doors…"
But …I sing for her innocence and shout,
"O, my beloved,
Why do you deny me this night?"
My glow fades as I knock at your door.
Why should I sail
when the wind fills me with rage,
when my beloved flees her home?

"O, my beloved..."
I’m still shouting, shouting
my heart overburdened with a dream
knocking at your door
between wake and sleep.

13th of Feb 1994

Notes: 1,2,3 and 5 are districts in Basrah city. 4 and 6 are small rivers in Basrah too.

*Poetic editing in English by Susan Bright.

(Note: If any of our Arabic speaking readers can tell us about the music video, that would be wonderful. Several hundred thousand people have seen it and many have raved about it but I can't really tell if it distracts from the poems, or not. It is said to be full of love for Iraq, the land and the people.

These poems have come from Soheil Najm. He has kindly sent twenty some pages of Iraqi poetry to share with earthfamilyalpha readers. I do a bit of editing, he replies. earthfamilyalpha is honored to be able to bring these Iraqi poems you — which Soheil Najm sends from a war zone.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

these poems are wonderful, thanks SB. SP

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This issue of Babel Fruit has some poems by a young Iraqi woman in the ICORN program. Before we actually got her out of the country, she began sending me her poems. I showed them to our resident Arabic writer - very discerning - and he liked them a lot. We still can't publish her name because it would put her family in danger, and the translations are only provisional, which- I think- provides a different kind of insight and appreciation anyway. . .>

I will certainly pass on your (Susan's) link to "Nadeen", too.


9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susan (and Farideh), thank you for sharing these powerful poems. I liked the music, actually, but would be curious to hear Arabic-speakers' reactions.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I wanted tomorrow in a morning like this," and "these are my blue voices and my gardens wet with intimacy" are images of a poet at work in the world. Soheil Majm is such a poet. The words of the poet Bassim al-Mureiby, asks the poets, "Where is your country?" He is poet who also knows how tears enter the world.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This from Farideh -- posted on the WOMPO list which is an international list for scholars and teachers who are interested in women's lit.



Here is a part of my interview with Soheil Najm :

2- Have you noticed ? In these days ,some of American and European feminist feel deep responsibility about Eastern women ,specially Muslim wives . In their view men who belongs to Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan treat their daughters and wives like slaves. Have in mind their wide sympathetic words in magazines and e-magazines on Nadia Anjuman for example . Do you see any link between this kind of thinking and political reasons? I , personally greatly suffer of their judgments. It seems some of English language poets , knowingly or unknowingly are justifying war against these countries, even those who have many poems against war . Please let me know your idea.

Soheil: Edward Said, the Palestinian thinker, dealt with this subject very deeply in his books. However, many of the western reporters who wrote about east were reflecting what was in their minds but not the real life. What they have in their minds about our reality is just a hypothesis they already believe in without reasonable discussions or facts. Let me talk about Iraq because I know it better. We have here in Iraq a special experience of what is called Western liberalism. For me, it was a mistake to overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein's regime by all those armies. The better of course that Saddam should fall by the Iraqis themselves. But the big more mistake , the American did, was how to deal with the Iraqi people after the fall of the tyrannical regime. The Americans are responsible for the looting , the plunder and the fires at first and later on they were also responsible for the shedding of blood in the civil war and the explosions because they who had opened the boundaries to the killers of al-Qaeda, with the help of all the countries around Iraq, because every one of these countries has its aims to protect themselves, as they presume, and let the Iraqis go to hell! It is really ridiculous to revenge from the dictatorship by destroying the whole country. If the western invaders had known well the nature of the Iraqis, and the east in general, and the complexities of their ethnology they might not have put this beautiful and civilized country in this horrible chaos. What had the Iraqis got until now from the democracy of the west? The real misunderstanding led to commit crimes began with the planned plundering of Iraqi Museum, notice the symbol here, notice the civilized imperialism, and not ending with the splitting of the unity of Iraqi people and letting the reactionary Islamist forces be the leaders of the scene.

Intellectuals of the west should read the underlined thoughts and see the whole world as partners of one new world. They shouldn't rely on rumors and naive reports which, I am sure, have, political aims. They should not judge previously. Western intellectuals should discuss with us how do we understand the human relationships and let us exchange ideas not weapons. Although I read many reports about abusing women and children and also about the white slavery in the west I am sure that there is no relationship between the real Islam and the slavery of women. Extremists are found every where as I presume.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a note I wrote in response to Farideh's post of the interview with Soheil, and in response to another post on that list entitled Feminism v. Muslim Women -- several people objected to the .v --


I have learned to be cautious when applying the dialectics of Western Feminism to cultures vastly different from, say, Europe or America. There is a wonderful organization called Women's World which holds international congresses every three years -- I believe the 7th or 8th one will be in Spain next year. Each year the location is a different part of the world. In Uganda in 2002 what we in the US call Women's Studies was mostly called Gender Studies. Men and Women (whole families) attended the congress, a stark difference from other ones I attended. The World Women's Movement which emerged with a full sense of herself from the Bejing UN Conference on Women changed my understanding of feminism. In parts of the world where survival at it's most basic levels isn't something people can take for granted -- war, famine, disease, poverty, etc -- women aren't much interested in solutions that don't take into consideration their whole families, their villages, their economies. American feminists for several decades "forgot" that women have children -- but we do, and the nurturing wisdom therein might be the only thing that can save the planet.

I don't know much about Feminism and Muslim women because, as an American born and raised in the corn belt, educated at our best institutions (Stanford has just hired Donald Rumsfeld) I can't assume I know anything at all about the Middle East. Elizabeth Fernia, who lives in Austin and is an old acquaintance of ours and who knows a huge amount about the Middle East, has always maintained there are and have always been many women living in the Middle East who are highly educated, brilliant, accomplished and hold social and political influence in their worlds. The veil is clothing -- for one thing. And only one part of experience.

So -- I tend to think on a scale of 1-10 (ten being worst) that America's negative effect on Iraqi women is a 25 and Iraqi men's effect on those same women would be about a 4. Iraq was a non-sectarian society. America put Sadaam Hussein into power, or helped him get power. Most Iraqi families are mixed ethnically, so that it took a huge amount of incompetence on our part of get them fighting with each other.

I gag when the prez says our presence in Afghanistan or Iraq improves women's lives there. If that were a goal of his, why not bomb the hell out of Saudi Arabia. My Muslim friends who have lived there -- the women -- say it was so difficult they spent all day crying.

That which allows civil society to be destroyed, culture to be rampaged, babies to burn in streets -- that's what's bad for women.

What our men happen to think at any given point in history about what we should wear, or how we should act at home, in bed, in the world -- that can get fairly weird -- but most men can't by themselves from the sky set fire to whole neighborhoods, cities, historical treasures -- consistently, for decades.

Hence and forever -- patriarchy appears to be the disease. And -- in spite of our huge and powerful women's movements here -- our version of patriarchy is doing a lions share of damage to women's lives worldwide.

12:53 PM  

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