and in my chest a garden

Hair-raising verse from the Iraqi poet, journalist, and political activist Saadi Youssef (1934-), who has spent most of his life in exile.

“Solos on the Oud”

A clock rang for the tenth time,
it rang ten o’clock,
it rang ten.

Across from the church tower
a star flickered and disappeared
and a nightingale vanished in the pines
fading into a green mirage of night.
Come to my house, girl.
My house is my shrine.
My house is a shrine.
The church shut its doors
and the candles were put out
and the kerchiefs were stained with wine.

On the dark path
the water was silent, and the dry leaves
and the deep shadows.

On the dark path
the sparrows didn’t sing
and in the garden
the whispering brook didn’t sing.

God of drowned alphabets,
where, where is the shiver of drowsy shadows?
Her hand is in mine
and in my chest a garden.

Land where I no longer live,
distant land,
where the sky weeps,
where the women weep,
where people only read the newspaper.

Country where I no longer live,
lonely country,
sand, date palms, and brook.
O wound and spike of wheat!
O anguish of long nights!

Country where I no longer live,
my outcast country,
from you I only gained a traveler’s sails,
a banner ripped by daggers
and fugitive stars.

from WITHOUT AN ALPHABET, WITHOUT A FACE (Graywolf Press, 2002) Translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa


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