Exactly a short while ago
nine elegant bullets ago
In some revolver
or in the head.
Since a city embroidered with slogans
and sentenced to death
Since open borders
Known only to smugglers and shepherds,
until heavily guarded squares.
Since I don’t know
how many prisons and cells,
not in Santiago
nor in Baghdad.
Since the first citizen
crushed by the boots of an entire brigade.
so beloved by the poor,
whose neutrality they hate in times of need.
When Morning rose to wake the Arab eyes
From long colonial sleep, tears turned to smiles
And country song-and-dance redeemed the skies
And dabki arms, entwined, stretched out for miles.
When with blithe voice, Sabah, our Morning, sang
The crescents flickered and the church bells rang
And music fluttered far with wings of light
Stretching the festive eves into the night.
When Morning died, the sunrise wore a shroud
And tears washed off the smiles in every crowd
And country music scurried home to mourn
Clouds, O clouds
O sighs of dreamers behind windows
Clouds, O clouds
Teach me the joy of evanescence!
I leave with barren arms that used to bear
The fruits of life with young, unmindful air
I flee with years upon my heals and drought
Within my eyes; where do I go, oh where?
Of life I am a restless wandering breath
Romantic, final, intimate like death
Why do I shed my leaves in spring and waste
My ancient wine upon this heedless earth?
Cities are mourning, robed in smoky skies
I hear them coughing bombs and bloody cries
From heaps of pregnant rubble, quickening
With mothers’ arms and little children’s eyes.
I climb your fences, Baghdad, and fall a lover in the night.
I stretch my gaze into the houses and smell the flower of the anteroom.
I weep over al-Husayn, and will be weeping for him until God
may help unite the separated
and tear down the wall of partition,
so that we can meet as two children
(From al-Bayati’s elegies, dedicated to his daughter Nadiya who died in California in 1990)
He who dies in his diaspora
Dies a martyr
In this late hour
A hundred years after
Your majestic death
I read all of them
One by one great poem
As if you were writing them today
Poet of the soul and the body
Of the leaves of grass and democracy
Sad and desperate
Bleak and forlorn
With guilty conscience
And bad intentions
On the brink of the abyss