Writing on Al-Sayyab’s Tomb

By Abd al-Wahab al-Bayati

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
and begin where things usually begin.
We water the thirsty butterflies,
we make fire out of the papers of our notebooks, 
we run into the gardens
and write the lovers’ verses on the wall.
We paint deer and nymphs that dance nude
under the moon of Iraq.
We shout under the Arch:
Baghdad, Oh Baghdad, Oh Baghdad
we came to you from the mud houses and from the ash cemeteries
to tear down your fences after death
to kill this night
with screams of our love which has been crucified under the sun.

i. Al-Sayyab is the last name of Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1926-64) who, with Nazik al-Malaika, founded the free verse movement in modern Arabic poetry. This poem was first published in al-Bayati’s collection titled Kitaba a’la al-Teen which was later included in his Diwan ‘Abd al-Wahab al-Bayati (Beirut: Dar al-’Auda, 1972), pp. 487-490.

ii. A reference to Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Taleb, the grandson of prophet Muhammad. Martyred with some family members in 7th century, Al-Husain has become a living symbol of Shi’at resistance and sorrows.

iii. A reference to the famous verse attributed to Majnun Layla, Qays bib al-Mulawwa, which is: “And God might help unite the separated (lovers) after/They have thought that the reunion was impossible.”

iv. A reference to the Taq Kesra (Arch of Chosroes), an impressive brick-vaulted palace in the ancient village Ctesiphon on the river of Tigris in Iraq by Sasanid kings (Chosroes) around AD 197-8.

–Translated from the Arabic by Saadi A. Simawe

This poem appeared in Al Jadid Vol. 5, no. 28 (Summer 1999).

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