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International Reflective Writing


Basim Furat

Basim Furat was born in Karbalaa, Iraq, in 1967 and started writing poetry when he was in primary school. His first poem was published when he was still in high school. In early 1993 he crossed the border and became a refugee in Jordan. Four years later he arrived in New Zealand. The death of his father when he was two years old, the fact his mother was left a young widow and his compulsory military service for the Iraqi army in the second Gulf War have had a large influence on his poetry. His poetry has been published all over the world, and has been translated into French, Spanish and English. His first poetry book in Arabic was published in Madrid in 1999 and the second one was published in Amman, Jordan, in 2002. He is a member of Union of Arab Writers and is the New Zealand co-ordinator for Joussour, an Australasian Arabic/English magazine.


Translated from Arabic by Abbas Al Shiekh
Edited by Mark Pirie

Friends depart
Followed by dreams
Lighting deep their paths of alienation
Their intimacy is forlorn
Their roads are fading
Their strength is failing
Their wishes taken by surprise 
And commit suicide …. commit suicide …. commit suicide ….They draw spring as a patch for them
And never return
Only to find autumn chewing into the map of the country
They seek the help of the two rivers, but destruction in its full attire
Is running in an area called homeFriends depart
Sea is swallowing their moons
Airports are archiving them in the oblivion basket
Borders are exclamation marks in their lives
But they did not crook their cross
Their memories are still at the house
Courtyard rocking their childhoodFriends depart
Friends depart



Emad Jabbar

Emad Jabbar was born in Maysan, Southern Iraq. He has published two books of poetry in Arabic, There Were Songs There (1996) and Tears On the Eyelids of Distant Windows (1998), and won a number of awards, including the Iraq Prize for Creativity, presented by the Ministry of Culture and Information in 2000. In March 2000 Emad travelled to the United Arab Emirates to receive a prize from the al-Sada House for Journalism. He has not yet returned to Iraq. Living in Jordan as a political refugee with the UNHCR, in 2001 his long poem "O you prayer rug of al-Aqsa" won the (American) Holy Land Institute for Relief and Development's Cultural Contest on the theme of "The suffering of the Palestinian Refugees."  In 2002, he won the al-Sharjah Award for Arabic Creativity, presented by the Ministry of Information and Culture of the UAE, for the poetry collection A Feather from Sorrow. The material prize of the al-Sharjah Award is the upcoming publication of A Feather from Sorrow (in Arabic) by the UAE government. Also in 2002 A Feather from Sorrow was translated into English by the Jordanian scholar Yaqoub Abouna. Emad has not yet sought publication of this work in translation.He has been in New Zealand for approximately one year, currently living in Wellington, studying English language, working with translators to refine and bring more of his works into English, writing new pieces in both English and Arabic and working with the International Writers' group (established 2002) in Wellington. His family remains in Iraq.

And They Shout

And they shout: don't leave
You are a poet
You are he
Who gathers people's tears
In the dawn of registers
You are a witness
Live here between the
twin rivers and persist
Live here and strew the 
years of sufferance
In the embers of the braziers

Do not live a day in a homeland's memory

Each time you pack up
your things to travel
All the little stars flutter
in you
All the bridge's lamps return you
All the house's eyes
The stubborn date palms
return you
Their nascent clusters have landed
And the last squadrons are
startled in my heart
And they shout: don't leave
You are a poet
You are he
Who gathers people's tears
In the dawn of registers
You are a witness
Live here between the
twin rivers and persist
Live here and strew the 
years of sufferance
In the embers of the braziers
You weep every time a bullet
hurts Baghdad
Every time the river's water
returns a drowned babe
The voice of death's colour
in its eyes wounds you
Leaves from the bushes' top
On the migrant's crown
And the green boughs almost
Grasping the garments
And the bitter orange
Throwing fragrance and questions
in the way
Why do you pack the bags
If you leave the door
will weep
And the virgin footbridge
And your eye tired mother
will weep
And the wind shall fling her
weeping lock
Upon the neighbours
Live here forever
And reproach whoever you wish
to reproach

Who do you think will house
you, who?
Who do you think will bring
you close?
If the bird of songs

cries in your ribs
Who will give you a hand's width
of sympathy?
Do not live a day in a homeland's
You are this wind
This cloud
This water
You this remaining mountain
across the ages

Do no live a day in a homeland's memory.


Dunya Mikhail

Dunya Mikhail has been a witness to two wars in her lifetime.  Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1965 she is an ethnic Assyrian.  She worked early in her career as a literary editor for the Baghdad Observer.  She was forced to flee Iraq in the late 1990s after facing countless threats and harassment from the government.  Mikhail received the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing, and in 2004 she received the PEN’s translation award for her poetry collection, The War Works Hard.  A speaker of Arabic, Assyrian and English. Mikhail’s poetry appears in numerous journals and anthologies including World Beat: International Poetry Now and Iraqi Poetry Today.

The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is 
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places
swings corpses through the air 
rolls stretchers to the wounded 
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins
some are lifeless and glistening 
others are pale and still throbbing 
it produces the most questions
in the minds of children
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters 
urges families to emigrate
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(while the poor remain
with one hand in the searing fire). 
The war continues working, day and night
it inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets
it contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs
provides food for flies
adds pages to the history books 
achieves equality
between killer
and killed
teaches lovers to write letters
accustoms young women to waiting
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures
builds new houses
for the orphans
invigorates the coffin makers
and gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
paints a smile on the leader's face.
It works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.


He plays a train. 
She plays a whistle. 
They move away.He plays a rope. 
She plays a tree. 
They swing.

He plays a dream. 
She plays a feather. 
They fly.

He plays a general. 
She plays people.

They declare war.

translated by Elizabeth Winslow, from The War Works Hard, published by Carcanet Press


Mikhail, Dunya. The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005)."Yesterday I lost a country," Dunya

Mikhail writes in The War Works Hard, a revolutionary work by an exiled Iraqi poet—her first to appear in English. Amidst the ongoing atrocities in Iraq, here is an important new voice that rescues the human spirit from the ruins, unmasking the official glorification of war with telegraphic lexical austerity. Embracing literary traditions from ancient Mesopotamian mythology to Biblical and Qur'anic parables to Western modernism, Mikhail's poetic vision transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries with liberating compassion.


Nabeel Yasin: The Poet of Baghdad

Nabeel Yasin was born on 18 March 1950 in the Karradat Merriam District of Baghdad. He finished his degree at the University of Baghdad in Arabic Literature in 1971. As a student in Iraq, he took part in the annual poetry festivals at the University and was one of its most talented and exciting poets. He also participated in other national poetry festivals, such as the Merbid festival in the southern city of Basra and the Abu Tammam poetry festival in Nineveh in the North of Iraq.In 1966, Yasin began working as a journalist at national newspapers, including al-Thuwra, al-Jumhuria, and the children’s weekly, Mejelitee-wal-Mismar, where he was editor. He was also an editor at Aleef-ba until 1976, after which an order from Saddam Hussein forced Yasin to quit his posts in official Iraqi journalism. Nevertheless, Yasin continued to write in the daily opposition publication, Tereek Al Sha’ab, until Saddam’s crackdown on the opposition in 1979 put the lives of its writers in danger. Yasin helped his colleagues to escape to the safety of neighbouring countries, being the last to remain before he left Iraq on 28 January 1980.He remained in exile for another twenty-seven years, completing his PhD at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Philosophy in 1987 and working endlessly for a free Iraq from his exile in Europe. During these years in Hungary and the United Kingdom, Yasin was a leading political figure in the Iraqi Opposition in exile. His contributions to Arabic and International newspapers and his poems did much to highlight the plight of the Iraqi nation as well as keeping the memory of the Iraq of his childhood alive. Yasin returned to Iraq for the first time in 2007. In 2009, British film director, Georgie Weedon, produced a film on Yasin’s final years in Iraq, and subsequent exile, titled The Poet of Baghdad. It is to be aired on Al Jazeera English in late 2009.

Home and Away--Writing of Nabeel Yasin

The exile was a poetic idea in the poetry I wrote in Iraq, an existential sensation about expatriation in time and other people. I explored the complexity, the mix of feelings about birth and death, love and departure, pain and pleasure, the maze and the horizon.

Later, exile became reality, my daily fate. And the experience of being an exile permeated everything, excluding me from language, making me a stranger in train stations, airports, motorways and winding forest roads. It changed the way I looked at everything and everybody from the faces of policemen to the visa stamps in my passport.

And my wife and son were victims of my exile: like two trees I tried to plant them, without success. And this failure confused me. The further away I moved from my homeland the more I began to imagine I was perhaps on my way home once again. Talking about home and reading about home replaced being there.

Now I am on the threshold of returning to my homeland for the first time in twenty-seven years. When I left, for strange, unknown lands, I did not expect anyone to welcome me. Always, I told myself that one day I would return home and there receive a warm welcome. Now that my return is approaching I wonder, with so many of my family and friends dead or gone, who will open the door when I knock at it, and who will be there to welcome me.


Abd Al-Latif Ataymish

Art in Troubled Times, VI, by Iraqi artist Iraqi Mohammed Qassem

Abd Al-Latif Ataymish (born 1948) received a B.A. in Arabic literature from the University of Baghdad and a Ph.D. from Lon- don University. The poems here have been selected from his third collection, Embers on the Heart’s Edge (1993). His two earlier collections include Good Words (1969) and Cities and Poems(1982). He currently lives in London.

A Homeland without Friends 

Fates have wronged you
When you were born, oh my homeland
In the age of calamities
Oh land of fertility and water
(Between two rivers or two swords)
You suffer thirst
You suffer hunger
As your Euphrates and Tigris
Turned into blood
For how long, oh my homeland,
Should you suffer?
Scattered are your innocent people
Oh cities of this earth
Stretch your arms
Oh roads of mourning
Branch off
As the heart is torn
By friends’ betrayal
Oh frontiers let your open spaces
Embrace them
As they pitch a tent for weeping!

The Dead Know No Fear 

I went out like a sleepwalker
Aroused by nightmares
I began searching for my homeland
In all continents
On earth and in heavens
Reciting every supplication
Carrying shrines on my shoulders
And a generation of orphaned martyrs
And a generation of veteran martyrs
And another awaiting the massacreAll the martyrs and the massacred
Are resurrected
Standing as tombstones above the graves
Fearless as death
The children of death
Are waking up
In their shrouds
With their heads shaven
Crying out:
Oh homeland of the innocent
Were you for us a graveyard?
Or a homeland?


Amal Al-Juburi

Amal Al-Juburi is an Iraqi poet, journalist, and translator now living in Germany. She received her B.A. in Englishin 1987 from the University of Baghdad and has published three collections, including This Body Is Yours: I Have No Fear (1999).


Oh Towers:

It’s time to leave this Mesopotamian 

 This land of sighs

Too many dead you have buried. While brooding your conspiraciesY

our rotten days. 

Time for emptiness. 

To fill my veinsBleeding with remorse

As I lament what escaped my heart

Left forsaken in the Bavarians’ temple

Like a moon obscured by fleeting mists

Oh Towers, who can defend us

Save my silence and your deceitful desert

Abandon me

Do what you like

Plant me at the wind’s whims

Disperse my joy. 

Across the map of gossips and clouds

Say what you like

Here she went, there she rested

Out of her conscience rises the jinn’s cry

On her lips rest Uruk’s borders,

Akkad’s secrets

And in her body bloom all the tormented gardens. 

On the crown of ruinsShe was Sargon’s jewel

And the priestess of dispersion

Forget not to mentionIn your cursed tablets: 

Enheduanna’s heart was greater than the tyrants’ gospels.

The earliest known author in world literature, ENHEDUANNA (ca. 2300B.C.) was a Sumerian princess, priestess, and poetess noted for her cycle of hymns to the goddess Inanna as well as her brief experience in exile (see William W. Hallo and J.J.A. Van Dijk, The Exaltation of Innana [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968]). Other adaptations of her poetry have appeared in several American anthologies, including Aliki Barnstone and Willis Barnstone, A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now (1981); Women on War, ed. Daniela Gioseffi (1988); and Women in Praise of the Sacred, ed. Jane Hirshfield (1994) 


Choman Hardi

Choman Hardi is the seventh and youngest child of Kurdish poet Ahmed Hardi. She was born in Suleimanya in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1974, but her family fled to Iran a year later after the Algiers Accord. The amnesty of 1979 enabled them to return home, only to be driven away nine years later during Anfal, when Saddam's forces attacked the Kurds with chemical weapons. In 1993, Hardi was granted refugee status in England where she went on to study Psychology and Philosophy and completed doctoral research at the University of Kent in Canterbury, on the mental health of Kurdish women refugees. Her post-doctorial research has seen her return to Kurdistan to document the plight of women survivors of Anfal.  Hardi began writing poetry when she was 20 and had published two collections of poetry in her mother tongue before Life for Us appeared from Bloodaxe in 2004; it was reprinted 18 months later. She has said in interview that her early poems are much more "flowery" because she "belonged to the Kurdish tradition and engaged with [her] poems in an intensely emotional way." Learning to write poems in English, she says, has given her a measure of detachment "which is essential when writing about painful, personal and sensitive subjects. Time and displacement can provide the required distance and so does writing in a second language. Only in English was I able to write about statelessness, genocide, oppression and Kurdishness." Hardi also sees English as a language of power and feels a deep-rooted sense of responsibility to be a channel for the Kurdish people to the English-speaking world, leading Moniza Alvi to comment: "This is compelling poetry of international significance."

Source: RAHA: World Independent Writers’ Home: 

My mother’s kitchen I will inherit my mother’s kitchen,her glasses, some tall and lean others short and father plates, an ugly collection from various sets,cups bought in a rush on different occasionsrusty pots she doesn’t throw away.“Don’t buy anything just yet”, she says,“soon all of this will be yours”.My mother is planning another escapefor the first time home is her destination,the rebuilt house which she will furnish.At 69 she is excited about starting from a scratch.It is her ninth time.She never talks about her lost furniturewhen she kept leaving her homes behind.She never feels regret for thingsonly her vine in the front gardenwhich spread over the trellis on the porch.She used to sing for the grapes to ripen,sew cotton bags to protect them from the bees.I will never inherit my mother’s trees.

Qleeshayawa *‘Qleeshayawa’, they would say, and start running.The old, the young, men and women‘Qleeshayawa’, they would say.The young men joked about it between themselvesIt’s our marathon, it keeps us healthy.They ran indefinitely.Sometimes with no expression on their faces,other-times covered with the sweat of fearrunning, looking back, running and looking back,or with humourSometimes it was triggered by a gunshotor the sight of vicious soldiersjumping out from their tank into a square.Other-times, accidentally, if somebody ran, they all followed. Sometimes they would be surrounded by tankswith nowhere to run to -and forced to stand like a flock of sheep,witness the execution of a friend,and to clap and shout:Long live justice! 
(* Qleeshayawa means cracking open. It is used to refer to the land or pomegranates; in the 1980s this word was used to describe the above situation.)

At the border“ It is your last check-in point in this country!”We grabbed a drink.Soon everything would taste different.The land under our feet continued,divided by a thick iron chain.My sister put her leg across it.“Look over here”, she said to us,“my right leg is in this countryand my left leg in the other”.The border guards told her offMy mother told me: We are going home.She said that the roads are much cleaner,the landscape is more beautiful,and people are much kinder.Dozens of families waited in the rain.“I can inhale home”, somebody said.Now our mothers were crying. I was five years old,standing by the check-in point,comparing both sides of the border.The autumn soil continued on the other side,the same colour, the same texture.It rained on both sides of the chain.We waited while our papers were checked,our faces thoroughly inspected.Then the chain was removed to let us through.A man bent down and kissed his muddy homeland.The same chain of mountains encompassed all of us.

What I want My father never had what he wantedand we still don’t have what he taught us to love.For many years he told us offif he became aware of our loud earringsif we dressed in red or perfumed our hair.He spoke of the neighbourswho were mourning the death of their sons,of the poisoned and soulless villages,of the spring of 1988 which was full of death.He spoke of the end of the bigger warwhich meant further energy for destroying us.Father criedwhen he smelt the first daffodils of each spring,when he saw images of the happy childrenwho weren’t aware of what was happeningIn his despair he kept saying:Like the American Indiansour struggle will become a topic for films.And I imagine what it would be liketo have what my father struggled forand I imagine the neighboursnot visiting the graveyard in despair.I imagine humane soldierssoldiers who would never say:“We will take you to a placewhere you will eat your own flesh”.And I imagine what it would be liketo have what my father struggled for. 

The Haunting The same images haunted my mother every night -hung by his wrists which were tied behind himwhen the fat flies that he hateddrank from his young blood.Their buzzing made her furious.He was back, swollen,with blue finger-nails,and an open wound on his left temple.Although he’d never be the same as before,he was back,many of them never actually made it.

My children I can hear them talking, my children,fluent English and broken Kurdish.And whenever I disagree with them,they will comfort each other by saying:Don’t worry about mum, she’s Kurdish Will I be the foreigner in my own home?
Source: OpenDemocrary: Free thinking for the world:


Fadhil Assultani

Fadhil Assultani works as the literary editor of the Arabic daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. He began writing poetry in the 1960s and his publications include a book of poetry called Burning in Water.  He was born in a small town near the city of Hilla, south of Bagdhad and, after studying at the University of Bagdhad, became a journalist. He has taught in Iraq, Morocco and Algeria, and now lives in London.  

Incomplete Anthem 

What will Iraq catch as she travels by sea for a thousand years?
Water in the veins? The peals of sons
sinking to the depths of the sea?
The world has returned, and Iraq has not.
No limits appear while she is travelling what will she catch?
Will it be fish swimming in the sea?
Some oysters? 
Shoes thrown overboard by people?
Shoes and papers roaming the sea for a thousand years?
The veins of the dead are her nets
our bodies with their necks cut are her fish-hooks

What will Iraq catch?
An ounce of sand, a basket of Euphrates water.
On the other bank creatures are sleeping, and life is born
God is in the mosque and life is between the thighs,
while she travels the sea what will she catch?
Basra misguided her land, and sold her Negroes.
A world collapses under a shout from the poet al-Mutanabbi,
A brick from Caliph al-Mamouns ruined house could rebuild it again

Her sons are in the water and sky,
dead and alive who are dying
while she travels the sea.
What will she catch?
A sperm and a piece of clay drifting in the water
A sperm and a piece of clay longing for life?

From my distant chair I see the dead rising
shaking off their sleeves the dust of graves
as if it were the day of Resurrection

Have the dead risen
to draw something on the sand
and returned to sleep?

Return, Iraq! You are not the master of the ship
nor prince of the sea.
There is no tower there,
no dam to keep back the tide.
You are naked like the waves.
There is no cloud to shade the caravan
and no tiny star to look down from your sky
no harbour calling you, and no houri to sing to you

Everyone has returned
but you have been in the middle of the sea for a thousand years
There is a dress of canes you spread out as a sail
and the wind rolls it up as tiredness envelopes you
Are these your hands? Or two wooden boards?
Where did you throw the tower of Babylon?

Which god bought it?
Where did you hang the cities of gold?
On which neck have they become necklaces?
Where is your first engraving?
Where is your first obelisk?
Where is your beloved Ishtar?
In which bed is she sleeping now,
to give birth to the legendary terrifying beast?

Iraq has come
and Iraq has gone
in her peace and in her war.
The water gulps her down
and the wind plays with her robe it imagines it is a sail
sometimes, and sometimes it takes a rest
in her heart.
Delusion, delusion
all the times have passed you.
We knew you as a deity and wild beast
a house and a bier.
You were the obelisks high up, and the water-moss from Babylon.
A bed of Babylonian water-moss?
A bed of Sumerian stone so as to take rest?
A bed of love because the earth is narrow?
You have the sea, expansive like life
the columns of cities which have departed from you for the sea?
Pillows of books which have departed from you for the river?
Will your face return again?
Two steps to Astarte
two steps to the kingdom,
will you enter there?
You will reach it and die.

A bed of Babylonian stone?
A bed of obelisks high up?
A stair to go up?
Two steps to an apartment in heaven.
Will you enter it?
You will reach it, and return.

(translated by the author, with thanks to Richard McKane)

R.S. Thomas* 

Like you, I too
hear in silence
barking in Babylon
and sometimes I see in the dark
vultures tear apart my corpse which was thrown on to a Baghdad street.
But like you, I too sometimes hear the fluttering of swans in an 
unknown sea
and the breaking of the waves on a distant shore.
And I see fish breed and the sea drifts them to the coast
to enter the net of eternity.

Sometimes, like you, I hear
in the middle of the night tenebrous music
and a voice summoning me,
and I leave my home
hoping to see a voice I am familiar with:
No voice is there.
Who is, then, calling you or me all night?
No one.
Wandering voices in the wilderness?
Who was, then, behind the door,
Listening in on Deaths voice,
creeping on the walls of the room?
Was it you, or I?
(translated by Saadi A Simawe and Melissa L Brown)
*This poem was written one month before RS Thomas’s death in September, 2000.

A Tree

I remember now, in my forties,
a tree
next to my home
beside a brook.

I remember now our secrets:
how she used to spread her shadows under me
bend her branches around me
and slip into my clothes
putting me on
as I put her on
together entering the brook. 

I remember now, in my forties,
my stories to the tree about the gardenia
and about the girl
who left us
only shadows over the water.

And I moved away
how far did I move away?
But I still see her
stretch her branches towards me
in order to lift me to heaven.

(translated by Saadi A Simawe)
Source: OpenDemocrary: Free thinking for the world:


Kajal Ahmad

Born in Kirkuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1967, Kajal Ahmad began publishing her remarkable poetry at the age of 21. She has published four books:  Benderî Bermoda (1999),Wutekanî Wutin (1999), Qaweyek le gel ev da, (2001) and Awênem şikand , (2004).Kajal has gained a considerable reputation for her brave, poignant and challenging work throughout the Kurdish-speaking world. Her poems have been translated into Arabic, Turkish, Norwegian and now, for the first time, into English.

The Fruit-Seller’s Philosophy

My friend! You were like an apricot.
At the first bite,
I spat out the core and crux.

My old flame! Sometimes
you're a tangerine,
undressing so spontaneously,

and sometimes you're an apple,
with or without the peel.

You're like a fruit knife.
There's never a time
when you're not
at our dinner table.
But forgive me if I say -
you're a waste of time.

Dear homeland, you're like a lemon.
When you are named,
the world's mouth waters
but I get all goosepimply.

You, stranger!
I'm sure you're a watermelon.
I won't know what you're really like
till I go through you like a knife.


Whenever he was in the mountains, wherever he took off his shoes, 
they would always point towards his city but he never thought that this might mean 
his homeland would be liberated. 

Now that he’s in his city, wherever he leaves his shoes, they point towards lands beyond his 
but he never dreams that the day might come when, without seeing the mirage that exile always sees, 
without any direction from his shoes, he will travel through the heart of his country, store myth in his grandmother’s wooden chest and, in the cellar of a happy house, close many colourful doors on it like the doors in his childhood stories.

Source: Poetry Translation Centre:


According to the latest classification, Kurds 
now belong to a species of bird
which is why, across the torn, yellowing pages 
of history, they are nomads spotted by their caravans. 
Yes, Kurds are birds! And even when 
there's nowhere left, no refuge for their pain, 
they turn to the illusion of travelling 
between the warm and the cold climes 
of their homeland. So naturally,
I don't think it strange that Kurds can fly. 
They go from country to country 
and still never realise their dreams of settling, 
of forming a colony. They build no nests 
and not even on their final landing 
do they visit Mewlana to enquire of his health, 
or bow down to the dust in the gentle wind, like Nali.*

* Refers to a famous line from Nali, 17th century poet:
I sacrifice myself to your dust - you gentle wind!
Messenger familiar with all of Sharazoor!The literal translation of this poem was made by Choman Hardi
The final translated version of the poem is by Mimi Khalvati

Stone Is Better

Bewildered as leaves on the wind's wing,
drear as the space between motes of dust,
lustful as the gaze of fire, colourless
as water's dress, the days pass.

Stone is better, its dead life weightier
than the words of philosophers who
for a while deceived us, then left us bereft.
Its wisdom, like the hair ribbons
of primary school children, is simple and lovely.
When it wishes to be holy, it gives birth
to descendants like the 'hero stone' of Sheikh,
the prayer stone and black stone of the Prophet.
When it longs for eternity, it becomes
an architect and sculptor. Whenever
it wants to play with girls all day, it becomes
a fivestone and hopscotch pebble; it makes
women tell it their secrets before they press it
against the crumbling headstone of holy men.
To reach man's greatness, it sits on Sizeph's shoulder
until he stands for all human futility.
In fact, the stone of patience, the stone of stoning,
the burial and stepping stones, are brothers.
The wishing stone, the grinding stone,
the dolmeh and hamman stones, are sisters.
Our rocky geography is a defiant truth
born from a mountain. I wish I had been born
from a watery being, brimming with life.
Or from an airy substance, ever-changeable
and moody. Or descended from a living fire,
like all temples that are forever Zoroastrian.
Our geography is rocky which is why
our poems brim with talk of seas, captains
and ships we've never seen.
Our geography is defiant too which is why
pockets of our history are caked
with the crumbs of revolution and its victims.
It is also stubborn.

Our history is rocky which is why
our dreams are rife with massacre.
I want a new era and a new people,
a people who are poets and an era that is poetry.
I want a different road, a road
I will walk in the morning thinking of
birdsong and cooing, not of my own murder.
Because I want something different,
I am like a waiting apple.
I am worn out. I want to say goodbye to love.
Stone is better than humanity.
It's only because of all the lies, wars,
and oppression, that I say this.
We are killed only in the name of love,
deceived in the name of struggle.
Our courage is so small,
it gets lost in great pockets of fear
and we give up. I am worn out.
I want to say goodbye to life.
I want to be divorced from life.
Stone is better than humanity.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Choman Hardi

The final translated version of the poem is by Mimi Khalvati



Kareem Risan

Kareem Risan is a painter and book artist who was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1960.  He graduated from Baghdad University’s College of Fine Arts in 1988.  He has had solo exhibitions in galleries and cultural centers in Baghdad and Jordan, and he has participated in many group exhibitions throughout the Middle East, in Europe (including the British Museum’s exhibition Word into Art), and most recently in the United States as part of the traveling exhibition Dafatir.  Risan is the recipient of numerous prizes at exhibitions in Iraq, Egypt, and Tunis.  He currently lives in exile between Jordan and Syria.


Salah Niazi 

Salah Niazi was born 1935 in Iraq and has lived in Britain since 1963. He is a poet, critic and translator and was founder-editor of the Arabic literary journal Al-Ightirab al-Adabi. He has published seven collections of poetry and has translated into Arabic Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth, and James Joyce's Ulysses.

The Adobe

Did you say civilization?

My abode is the crossroads of the ages:

The Gardens of Babylon

Are hanging on the wall,

In which rivers nearly flow, and birds swim in the sky.

And there stands the sentinel of my gate:

A Sumerian lion.

Soothsayers are gazing

From the balconies of the miniatured Nineveh on my desk.

A fragment of a handle from an old jar -

I see in the blueness of its clay,

The thirst of men who are melted in the sands of time.

Don't you hear Sinbad in the drawing room?

Jinns in his saddlebag, he spins yarns,

How often he forgets what he was telling,

His handmaids are painted on bowls, painted on platters.

They have embroidered verses on their robes:

Implying virtue but insinuating fornication.

Their anklets tinkle with beauty,

And their feet are not unlike buds of cotton and henna,

A cascaded brook when they bend down,

And when they rise, a bird hovering over a twig.

They have embroidered verses on their robes,

Implying virtue but insinuating fornication.

Bit by bit they strip the bark from their twigs.

This is my abode,

The roots are shooting up with songs

But whence comes the mysterious wailing?

How a buzzing silence lurks in the instrument of music,

The waters flow, but I hear something of thirst in the waves.

The air blows, why is it hard to breathe?

Why do lungs shrink and breathing is sticky in the trachea?

Thus the hedges round the house are swollen with roaring.

Whence are anxieties engendered like dizziness,

The earth rocks and the bed is made to stagger.

Did you mention civilization?

Don't mention the night,

The city seems listening for a coming foray.

She falls down unconscious, how long is a single night]

As if destruction lies hidden beneath the stagnant highways,

Silence is so thundery in the crowded darkness.

The corridors of the habitation are hissing,

The ceiling rocks to and fro.

I hear bolts slide open

As if the wind with claws of hungry wolves,

Like a thunderous guffaw at a wake.

I sleep and I rise on a single thought.

When people of bridled cities sleep,

They sleep with swelling of their bodies,

As if ants crawl in their bones,

Migraine worms split their skull.

When they wake, they are diminished.

Why does the fearful man become even smaller and smaller?

When sleep enters me and my soul surrenders,

I listen to the foray of the swelling,

To the ants crawling in the bones,

To the migraine splitting the skull.

When thunder rumbles I say there it is, an assassination,

And if lightning flashes I say it is a coup.

I sleep and I wake with one single thought.

From Back from War 

Outside the barracks
Folk are waiting apprehensively
As if at the hour of the trumpet.The war is over
The survivors are coming back, 
At a distance, the military lorries are in sight
Guns are heaved up lengthwise
Above the soldiers’ heads
As if floating up to their necks
These are the remnants of the still-alive-and-kicking
Shoulders are without epaulettes, 
Uniforms without buttons, 
Their arms are just like oars in a dry river
Plying from one arid wave to another
Crying Noah, Noah, Noah
Remnants of those still-alive-and-kicking.In an assembly like this
There is no grieving for lost limbs, 
Any strap of a person is enough
The important thing is still to be alive, 
Lost limbs are of no concern.Every soldier on the coming lorries
Is counted as alive and dead – both at once
Alive and dead both at once
Uncertainty and certainty
Life and death
Are interwoven nowIn a moment, the truth will be made plain, 
The dead will be dead forever, 
And the living will be in part alive.Critical moments are, no doubt, shattering
They can save, or otherwise kill, in an instant
Like a flash of lightning, unawares it catches you
Like a flood, it does not give you time
To collect your belongings
Or put on your clothes half decently.In such a gathering
Joy and grief soon will be two separate things
And selfishness will show itself
As the most powerful element in man’s nature.She is like a stricken boat
A woman searching for her son
Is like a stricken boat. 
Inches away, an embrace
So strong that
There will be no dividing them.Feasts and obsequies
Are two neighboring trees
Their fingers are interlacing now
But how different they are.


Yahya Al-Samawi

Born in Iraq in 1949, Yahya Al-Samawi has been living as a political refugee in Australia. The author of more than eight collections, he has been largely concerned in his latest works with political themes, which address, among other issues, Iraq’s predicament in the years following the Gulf War and his opposition to the regime.   

My Love Humiliated Me 

My love humiliated me

So did my wound that extends from the palm tree’s braids

To the people’s bread

And when the Tartars one night besieged me

I crossed the wall of the massacred homeland

Anxiety was my provision

Terror was my water

I roamed the fires of the East

The gardens of the West

With no companions

Except residues of my home’s ashes

The clay of the Euphrates and Tigris

Splattered on my clothes

I searched for my childhood

In the memory of days

In the refuse of oppressive wars

Seeking my city

Looking for my beloved among this age’s captives

Uncovering my roots

A sweet enchanting Euphrates

Suddenly I saw a palm tree on a sidewalk

I shook it

Tears flowed down over my face

And when I shook the earth’s trunk

Oh God Iraq surges in my heart


The Last Poem

I want for myself:
twenty hands, 
A sheet of paper large as a tropical forest,
A pen big as a palm-tree,
A well of black ink,
to write my last poem
Pouring in it my anxiety,
the paleness of children who exchange their school bags for beggars’ tools, their toys for shoe-shine boxes
My last poem long as the night of Iraq
Where I place the agonies of my homeland
itched on a guillotine’s edge,
And the wailing of widows and bereaved mothers.
And read it from a pulpit atop a mountain
Or from the electric chair waiting for my head’s arrival
-Before I begin death’s slumber without nightmares-
bandages cannot smother my fires
rivers and rains can neither quench my thirst 
Nor drench my arid life
Hand me the instruments of writing
I don’t practice my freedom except on papers
Let me die on my papers
Let a poem be my tomb
I will have no tomb in my homeland
Give me the tools of writing to dig up my grave
If not I shall begin my last sleep
But do not close my eyes
I want them to stay wide open like the door of our huts
Like the hands of beggars
Let them stay open
To see what is darker: my grave or Iraq?
For twenty years I searched in my home for my homeland 
Oh, If only I could gather the fragments of my corpse
my frequent moves between internment camps 
and underground chambers of torture
Scattered my memory throughout Iraq
For twenty years lovers in my homeland exchanged their letters in their dreams
And met each other only in funeral processions. 

Translated by Professor Salih J. Altoma


Hana Malallah

"I am soaked in catastrophe like a sponge." So states Hana Malallah a major artist based in Baghdad who is currently in exile in London. Hana Malallah is a prominent contemporary artist who has been teaching at the College of Fine Arts in Baghdad University until last fall (October 2006), when she reluctantly left the city. "My work is about catastrophe. I am soaked in catastrophe like a sponge. I am stamped by Iraq's wars. During the Iran Iraq war I was 20. There has been war after war. My pen is a knife."  This painting is called Baghdad City Map, 2007. The canvas has been burned and painted with black as a record of the destruction of the city. The one green star is a reference to the stars of the Iraq flag, the black stars refer to the US flag.This work is part of an ongoing series about Baghdad the city.

Detail, Bagdad City Map

Hana survived the Iran Iraq War, the First Gulf War and most of the most recent war. She is a deeply committed artist who has left her city only to get the word out: "I didn't want to leave my country. I want to do a project about the burning city so the world knows what I have seen. When I was in Iraq, every time I was in the street I had to know that I might die at any moment. I passed many dead people everyday, I took a minibus to work that had to follow long detours because the streets were blocked. Troops were everywhere. When I went shopping there were soldiers with guns pointed. I lived without electricity, water, little food, one hour of electricity if you are lucky. Hell is more comfortable than Iraq. Baghdad was a beautiful city like London."Each page of this large format book refers to Baghdad's history and destruction. The City of Baghdad was laid out in a circle in by al Mansour in the mid- 8th century AD at the founding of the Abbasid Dynasty. The Abbasids sponsored a flowering of Islamic culture for several centuries.

Ineffective Game I

Anyone can play by moving the red squares around. Obviously it is a reference to the futility of the current situation in Baghdad, and the pointless games played by all participants. It is also a reference to the invention of games in ancient Mesopotamia such as the Royal Game of Ur.Hana Malallah bases the pattern on the surface on the Sumerian patterns on pottery. She has studied the geometric principles of Islamic painting and here disrupts that perfect order. The cone like projections are based on the ornamentation of the Temple of Warka in IraqHer generation of Iraqi artists emerged during the Iran Iraq war. They were unable to travel abroad, so they studied the history of Mesopotamia and incorporated references to archeological history in their contemporary paintings at the newly established Iraq Archeological Museum only steps away from the Institute of Fine Arts. For Hana Mal Allah the destruction of the archeological museum was a major part of the catastrophe of war, it was a place where she used to spend days studying the art. It is part of her heart and soul.
Source: Art and Politics Now, “ Hannah Malallah,” by Susan Platt:

Stolen Dreams


Zaineb Alani: War Poems

Zaineb Alani was born in North Africa, to Iraqi diplomats, and grew up in China, and later East Africa, Tanzania. She returned with her family to her native Iraq to experience firsthand the impact of two successive wars: the war of attrition with Iran, which lasted eight years, and the first six-week Gulf War, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In 1994, she moved to Jordan to teach at Jordan University. She accepted a Fulbright scholarship in 1996 to complete a graduate degree in Education at Ohio State University. Zaineb published a poetry anthology in 2007 by the title, "The Words of An Iraqi War Survivor & More". She currently resides in Columbus, Ohio, where she works as an instructional designer and consultant for local companies. Zaineb's family were forced to pull her mother out of Baghdad a week before the 2003 Gulf War. She has forty extended family members who still live in Iraq. Zaineb is an antiwar activist and keeps blogs at:

War Poems


You drain the words out of my famished mouth
when you scream,
a sun-drenched cry of dripping dates and palm-green nostalgia.
You, a thought in the womb before birth,
And all the lines of crimson of afterlife,
a bosom of Tigress-scented compassion,
thrown across a desert of aimless caravans.
You, a wan wanderer, in the pages of my history...
Did you know that,
your rains washed away my name,
minutes after baptism,
tattooed tomorrow's memories for eternity...?
But then you turned your face east...
away from me...
Do you recognize me? ...
I am the homeless child that seeks your amputated arms for refuge,
a beggar of identity amidst your grains of blood-drenched sands.
Why have you lost me
when I had hung on to the trains of your abbai,
through all the wars,
all the sores...?
Left my minarets of war-torn memories to crumble into oblivion...
my faith in humankind disemboweled.
You are the truth
-if it ever existed,
belief, when it is all I know.
I know you now
like I know God.
For you are the entity they forbade,
the remnants of the game they played,
the devastated I...

For my beloved Iraq...

The People Of My Land Today

They speak strange words
these people that come from my land
they grow legs and horns for sanguine stories
that sit on chairs
then rot as they unravel and run...
They trace images in the air
that only God 
can read
they bite their native tongues
as they utter 
these new words
like 'them' and 'us'
These people from my land
have released their grasp of their roots
The seas of enstrangement
have filled the hallows of their
sinking hearts
they dream different dreams
dominions where nightmares
touch the grounds
as they enter
with feet
that scream
to stamp a smoother end out.

Eye for Eye

(For Emily Henochowicz)

Sniped in the eye

before my vision

could savor the next ‘thirsty pixel’.

Blue skies

now charcoal

now crimson

and then no more…

Clouds pushing hard

for a way out of my socket…

Blue tears

streams and rivers

and then this drought

carves its bed in my face.

Know they, that I can spell

more names for color

than they ever tasted in their

mothers’ wombs?

Know they, that Yahweh

designed different dawns

for minds like mine?

Know they, that I am the same blood

that pulled that trigger…

And saw they, with their eyes

that can still see,

the horizons of their expiring aspirations


If an eye was the cost,

my cause is not lost.

I did not fall.

Their humanity did. 
My poem to Emily Henochowicz, a Jewish art student who lost her eye to an IDF sniper when protesting the Gaza flotilla incident.


She brings parts of 
that part 
of the world 
She brings sun
in Turkish coffee cups
She brings news of freshly-brewed war
on the TV channel that 
doesn't play here

the story of the 
made-in-Abu Ghraib
that no one could identify
at the neighbor's garden gate

She brings smiles 
from better times

She brings hope
that people over there
can continue to live
and carry on
to the next war...

I, the terrorist...

I, the terrorist,
watched the bread break off my brother’s bleeding teeth
He had never tasted blood-flavored bread...

I, the terrorist held my breath,
as the bricks from my kitchen ceiling
hit my forehead…

Yet, I could still stand…

I, the terrorist,
took the rut-filled road to get water
for my suckling infant.

I lost a few fingers
on the way,
to a precision sniper…

I, the terrorist,
dug-up some dirt water
with what was left of my stubs,
and tried
to nurse my wailing one,
as he lay in the arms
of the still-warm
body of his departed mother…

I, the terrorist, hated
that my newborn had to taste
blood-stained water;
I hated that
he now had no milk
the scarlet stuff slowly bubbling on his lips…

Then, I the terrorist,
that he,
like his mother,
like my brother,
and every other terrorist
who had sat for a meal
at that fractured kitchen table
had now
stopped feeding too…

Note: Inspired by a survivor of the Gaza massacre, sitting in what remained of of his home with what looked like a fingerless bleeding hand...

All I want…

All I want from my country which was pushed out of a train window
are my father’s last smile
and the torn pages of his unfinished book…

All I want from my country which was gang-raped back in a Baghdad alley
are the remnants of my mother’s shredded scarf…All I want…All I want from my country which was slaughtered in the global public square
are my sister’s last words before her tongue was strangled

All I want from my country which was dragged by her hair down a bloodied Tigris bank
are the stolen cradle of my Mesopotamian heritage
and the swaddle of a mutilated infancy that crawled into oblivion...

But I am not allowed to want…

So I cannot want…

I cannot want.

This Torn Map

Pinned to my heart…
this torn map and bleeding
nostalgia drips at my severed valves

Lashes yearning for the blind white to cover
all the crimson
It grips the pit of pain where my stomach is
And nausea now has no name

It comes in flashes of red around Baghdad
in flames at the crying Shrine of Mousa Al-Khadim
while Abu Hanifa descends into flakes of
black despair

They both want out…

"These are not our people.
They have murdered us in our graves. "

Pinned to my brain
the image of love
that will never be again

Baghdad nights now have gouged eyes.
the tunnels are endless
and the sunlight of infinity
that once shone through its lenses
has been crushed with
explosions of unanswered questions...

Pinned to this spirit
the dawn of doom
and the weight of eternity that comes with the point of no return.


these go above title Home and Away--Writing of Nabeel Yasin


under Stolen Dreams:


under Zaineb Alani: War Poems:




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