Fall 2007 Vol 5.2
Selected Poems
Yahia al-Samawy

Don't Light the Candles
               --translated by Eva Sallis

Don’t light the candles, Shahrazad
Shahriyar lays waste a town a night
He bathes his madness in its blood
He pours fires into the vessels of peace.
Leave the country
There is famine in Basra
The plague in Baghdad
And on the roads the secret police and an ill will
Throw the mirrors away—
The mirrors of the times are tarnished in the captive cities
Be on your guard—
The Mamluks are chasing me
I rejected the statutes of invaders and since then
They have made legal the violation of my body
They have inspected my eyes looking for yours, my beloved.
They have inspected my throat
Because I reviled dearth and plague
And the idol
And time on the run from the graveyard of time
So be on your guard—
Hide the jewel of your eyes—
For this is a time in which love and country are stolen.
Throw the mirrors away
Wash the remnants of sleep from your eyelids
Don’t light the candles, Shahrazad—
Light and darkness have become one and the same
In a land ruled by the graven image
Don't Light the Candles

* * *

Don’t light the candles—
The night, my beloved, is a graveyard
The lover the corpse
And the morning, my beloved,
Is the shroud.

From the Ashes of Memories
          --translated by Eva Sallis

The elders remember
The earth was unlimited
The water sweeter
The loaf more delicious
And the grass
Greener . . .
And the canvas and sackcloth
Were softer than the silk of today

Even the lovely girls of yesterday
Were more feminine
And the horse of yesteryear
Gave to the rein for none but her master . . .
And there were no cowards attacking out in the open
And the foreigners
Didn’t dole out starvation rations
And the heartbeat of slaves
The wolves could be satisfied with just one from the herd
Not like the wolves of today
I remember that my mother told me of houses
Without doors
She swore that a neighbour
Once lost a ewe

It returned after a whole year, with a lamb in tow
And, herding the two of them, a youth who asked the whole town
For whoever had once lost a ewe
The elders remember
People didn’t glance around if they walked in the market
As they left the mihrab.

Our children will remember:
The earth is tighter than a noose in Baghdad
And the water of the Euphrates has
A taste of sickness
The neighbour dreads his neighbour
And the eyelash fears its eyelid

Variations on My Clay Heartstrings
         --translated by Eva Sallis

Here I am, spreading fresh water, plaintive songs,
Sweet myrtle flowers,
I await nightly an apparition from my beloved
Who will hunt for me the bird of drowsiness?

Between your eyes and me
There is a forest of exiled trees
Fences of prison cells and a desert of lamentation.
Why do strangers bathe
In my country
In the drizzle of blessed rain
While the grass by the Euphrates bathes in pus and blood?
And why do we own nothing in our homelands
Except elegies?

Who will scale the fence of night and distance
And wipe the tears from our eyes
And the disgrace from our foreheads?
Who will return greenness to the grass
And to the river its waters
And peace to Karkh and Rassafa
Without aspiring to the Caliphate?

Country of date palms
And teardrops the shape of glittering stars,
If you make the rope into a noose
I will make from it a child’s swing,
And from my wound a lily.

O winds!
Take the ash of our wounds
And pollinate the flower of revolt or the points of spears
Variations on My Clay Heartstrings

* * *

And then perhaps a dawn will break
From the womb of wounds.

O time of lamentation
My country
Is as wide as the sky
And as tight as a shroud

Leave My Country
         --translated by Eva Sallis

This earth we love
Grows no jasmine flowers
For the taking
And the potent Euphrates
Begets no olive or fig
Under the patronage of renegades.

Leave my sacrificed country
The slain people
Orchards . . .
Waterways . . . and clay
And leave us in peace.
We won’t exchange the pig for the wolf
Nor the plague for tuberculosis
Nor death for leprosy.

Leave my country . . .
The helmet of occupiers can never be a pigeon’s nest.

Leave my country . . .
The spilt blood will never become lavender flowers

Leave my country . . .
Now the long-suffering orchards, their springs dry these two generations past,
Cry out, leave my country . . .
Hands off the wronged people, before we retaliate
Free us from you . . .
From the falseness of trademarks
From those who deal in oil and siphon wars
The publicans of strife
Bread thieves
Guides of occupation armies
Those who savour whoredom
Auctioneers of stolen goods and
A corruption of right and wrong.

* * *

Leave my country . . .
Drink a victory toast to the commandant of prison guards
In the war on an imprisoned people.
Yes, we were vanquished before the war began:
A date palm begging for dates . . .
Fields begging for grain . . .
And clay.
Blood of the clay poured
From the castle gates
To the mihrab.
So leave my country
And give us the chance to bury our dead
To pull out from under the heap
Corpses not yet of an age to be weaned

Before the date palm of Iraq shudders awake
And unsheathes the swords of vengeance