I will ask about you, son

I always get goosebumps when I read this poem from the one of my favorites, the preeminent Iraqi writer and activist Saadi Youssef (1934-), who has spent much of his life in exile.


“Undead Nature”

Abu al-Khaseeb passes
like morning fog,
a wooden bridge dripping dampness,
there are palm trees
and hyacinths.
The tenderness of happiness
is in the sky.
I will ask about you, son,
when things are cloudy;
I ask about you.
I ask about you.
But I already see you now:
day after day,
night after night.
So wait for me, O son,
we will meet
where the fog is blue
in the morning.


Translated by Sinan Antoon and Peter Money in Nostalgia my Enemy 


Happy National Poetry Month

Dear readers,

Although I’m slightly bewildered that April is upon us already, I am very much looking forward to sharing another round of poems with you in honor of National Poetry Month. Whether you are a new visitor or have been kindly following for the last seven (!) years, welcome to another romp through verse from near and far, from recent decades and centuries past.

“Poetry is my daily bread and I want it to be the bread of all people,” wrote the tremendous Iraqi poet and activist Saadi Youssef. Yes. Sharing this nourishing bread is, after all, the reason I began this blog in the first place. During days overflowing with e-mails and workloads and the litany of to-dos that make us perpetually “busy,” I invite you stop for a moment and sink your teeth into a poem. Perhaps you, too, will find yourself wanting more.

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