Friday, December 20, 2013

Poem of the Week: Dunya Mikhail

Photo by Michael Smith          

excerpt from Part One of
Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea


Through your eye

history enters

and punctured helmets pour out.

Frequent tremors occur in your land

as if invisible hands shake your trees day and night.

They blockaded you and banished the oxygen from your water,

leaving the hydrogen atoms to quarrel with one another.

Shouldn't the nations be disturbed by the face of a child

who shuts her mouth and eyes

in surrender to UN resolutions?

But they only opened their own mouths slightly,

smaller than a bud,

as if yawning or smiling.

We made room in our day for every star,

and our dead remained without graves.

We wrote the names of each flower on the walls

and we, the sheep, drew the grass

--our favorite meal--

and we stood with our arms open to the air

so we looked like trees.

All this to change the fences into gardens.

A naïve bee was tricked and smashed into a wall,

flying toward what it thought was a flower.

Shouldn't the bee be able to fly over the fence-tops?

Long lines are in front of us.

Standing, we count flasks of flour on our fingers

and divide the sun among the communicating vessels.

We sleep standing in line

and the experts think up plans for vertical tombs

because we will die standing.

-Dunya Mikhail

translated by Elizabeth Winslow

Used by permission.

From Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, 2009)  

Dunya Miikhail is an Iraqi-American poet, born in Baghdad in 1965, who left Iraq for the US (Michigan) in the mid-1990s. She has worked as a journalist for The Baghdad Observer and her work was found "subversive." She was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing in 2001, and her translator, Elizabeth Winslow, won a 2004 Pen Translation Fund Award. Her first book in English, The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005, Carcanet, 2006) was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize and was named one of the 25 books to remember in 2005 by the New York Public Library. It was also translated into Italian by Elena Chiti and published by Edizioni San Marco dei Giustiniani (Rome, 2011). Mikhail's Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, NY, 2009) won the 2010 Arab American Book Award. A new book of poetry, The Iraqi Nights, is forthcoming from New Directions in 2014.

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