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.