None Other But Iraq

Mahmoud Darwish

I remember Al-Sayyab, hollering at the Gulf in vain:

“Iraq, Iraq, none other but Iraq …”

and answers only the echo. *

I remember Al-Sayyab … in this Sumerian space

a female vanquished the sterility of haze,

and bequeathed us homeland and exile together.

I remember Al-Sayyab … poetry is born in Iraq,

So be Iraqi to be a poet, my friend!

I remember Al-Sayyab … life wasn’t as he envisioned

amid the Tigris and Euphrates, he didn’t contemplate

like Gilgamesh the herbs of eternity, or Judgment Day.

I remember Al-Sayyab… adopting from Hammurabi his laws **

to shroud his loins and march to his grave.

I remember Al-Sayyab, when I suffer a fever and hallucinate:

My brothers made dinner for Hulagu’s army, ***

No servants but them  ... My brothers!

I remember Al-Sayyab … we dreamt of no more than

what bees merit of sustenance, no more than

two little hands shaking our absence …

I remember Al-Sayyab … dead blacksmiths rise

from graves and build our chains!

I remember Al-Sayyab … poetry is experience and exile,

counterparts, and we dreamt of a life no farther

than life, and to decease the way we please:

“Iraq, Iraq, none other but Iraq.”

–Translated from the Arabic by Elissar Haikal

This poem appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 9, no. 44 (Summer 2003)

Copyright (c) 2003 by Al Jadid


* In reference to Iraqi poet Badr Shaker al-Sayyab’s poem “The Chant of Rain” in which he writes: I cry out to the Gulf/ “O Gulf/ Giver of pearls, shells and death!”/ And the echo replies, /As if lamenting: / “O Gulf, / Giver of shells and death.”

** King of  Babylonia, from roughly 1792-1750 B.C.E.  The Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest known examples of human laws being defined and written down in an orderly way. The code’s best-known dictum is commonly quoted as “An eye for an eye.”

***Mongol conqueror, grandson of Jenghiz Khan. He sacked and burned Baghdad in 1258 and eliminated the Abbasid caliphate.

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