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In verse, words of war and peace

Published September 17, 2006

A new book gathers literature from what President Bush famously called "the axis of evil" - Iran, Iraq and North Korea - and other politically outcast nations.

The New Press book, called simply Literature From the "Axis of Evil," was compiled by the editors of Words Without Borders, an online magazine of international literature (www.words The book was "born in conscientious objection" to Bush's rhetoric, the editors say in a foreword, and is meant "to stimulate international conversation through literature."

Twenty writers are represented. This poem is by Salah Al-Hamdani, an Iraqi who has been living in exile in France for 30 years. He wrote it after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was translated from the French by C. Dickson.

- MIKE WILSON, assistant managing editor/Newsfeatures




You needn't crucify yourself

either on the edge of a page

of history that is not your own,

or to atone for the dead born of your suffering

for nowhere is there a cry to soothe your pain.


You needn't crucify yourself on the banks of the bloody torrents

that gush from your body,

as the Euphrates bares the secrets of its soul

at the dawn of a new defeat.

I know,

no wound can justify war.


You needn't crucify yourself at the end of the day,

when you have not concluded your prayers

over the fallen palms

for there can be no honorable killer.


You needn't crucify yourself for the ashes of disaster

for the tombs of your Gods,

or for the beliefs of a dying humanity.


Baghdad, my beloved,

neither father, nor son, nor God,

no prophet crowned by the church will save your soul,

neither the one from Mecca,

nor the prophet of those who refuse

to share olive branches in Palestine.

Here is my war notebook

years of exile

folded into a suitcase;

abandoned far too long to the dreams of the condemned.


Here is my share of victims

my share of moon

my harvest of emptiness

my share of dust, of words, and of cries.


Here is my sorrow

like a comma barring off an ink mark.

Baghdad, my beloved,

I was squatting in a corner of the page

Sheltered from barren days

far from bloody rivers

that swept away the names of the dead

and people's silence.


Baghdad, my beloved

sitting like a Bedouin in a mirage

stretched along my shores, I cherished my own death shroud

far from the cross, from the hand of Fatma

and the star of David

far from their books, from their wars

wandering through the sandy dunes

from the wasteland to the town

I drag my body from season to season

and you from the couch to the mirror,

from my bedroom to the street

between my writing and my loneliness

far from their cemeteries,

from their martyrs, from their morgues.

Baghdad, my beloved,

you did not stand shivering in the doorway of the ruined days,

a whole civilization geared to killing

has robbed you of your innocence.

Baghdad, you who never submitted to Saddam, the brute

you have no reason to groan

at the simple revelation of that iron fist

those who busy themselves about your agonizing body,

those "liberators," become his henchmen.


Baghdad, my aching heart,

my father, a laborer, never knew joy

my mother lost her youth in the mirror

and the sole witness to my

first heartbroken sobs upon your breast

is the blowing sand,

the starry sky and God's gaze as prayer is being called.


Madinat al-Salam

city of peace

love in the essence of the written word.


How I wish today

that man had never discovered fire

and I curse him for tramping on through his own deafening din.


The earth that gave me life is being put to death today

oh! mother! Let me return to your flesh

So I might listen to the beating of your soul

and drink in the murmur of your breath.

- March 25, 2003

Word for Word is an occasional feature excerpting passages of interest from books, magazines, Web sites and other sources. The text may be edited for space, but the original spelling, grammar and punctuation are unchanged.

[Last modified September 15, 2006, 11:17:07]

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