Lately I have dedicated a lot of time to reading some of what I consider to be classic literature. Two examples are the first volume of Library of America's Vonnegut Collection, and, more recently LOA's collection of Louisa May Alcott's most famous books. When I get back to the States and unpacked, my next big reading endeavor will be a four-volume complete collection of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
Many of the tales told on those famous Arabian nights took place in or around Baghdad, one of the earliest cultural centers of the world - a place with a rich and colorful heritage. I have a regret that I will never be able to visit the city as it was just a couple of decades ago. Now that it has been decimated through the excesses of both Saddam Hussein and the War on Terror, there appears little to be left of the glorious city that once existed in peace on the banks of the Euphrates.
And that is very sad.
Today's poem, "Baghdad, Mon Amour," is a love letter to the city from one of her sons. It is a sad and beautiful tribute to a place that has been ravaged by war for far too long. The poem was written by Salah al Hamdani, and it was translated by Molly Deschenes.
Baghdad, Mon Amour
by Salah al Hamdani
On the side of a page
Of a story that is not your own,
Nor to the rhythm of the deaths that brood your plagues
Because there will be no cry to relieve your grief.
Your body bleeds,
When the Euphrates washes away the secret of its soul
At the birth of a new defeat.
I know this:
No wound deserves a war.
When you did not close your prayers
On the body of palm trees
Because there is no honorable assassin.
For the tombs of your gods,
Or for the belief of a dying humanity.
Not son, nor father, nor God,
No prophet crowned by the church will save your soul,
Not that of Mecca,
Not that of those who refuse
To share the olive trees in Palestine.
The years of exiles folded in a suitcase
Too long abandoned to the dreams of the convicted.
My share of moon,
My harvest of nothingness,
My share of dust, words and cries.
Like a comma locking a line of ink.
I was crouched in the corner of the page
In the shelter of the arid days,
Far from the torrents of blood
That carry the name of those shot with the silence of man.
Sitting like a Bedouin in a mirage
Lying on my shores, I cherished my own shroud.
Far from the cross, Fatima’s palm and the star of David
Far from their books, their wars
Wandering in the sand of the dunes,
From the steppe to the city
I drag my body from season to season,
I trail you along from the couch to the mirror, from my room to the street
Between my writing and my solitude
In the shelter of their cemeteries,
Their martyrs, their morgues.
You cannot tremble at the threshold of these ruins of days,
A civilization trained to kill
Violated your virginity.
You cannot groan at the only revelation of this hegemony,
Those who rushed around your body at death’s door,
These “liberators” are their accomplices.
City of peace,
Love in the soul of writing.
My father the working man died without knowing joy,
My mother mislaid her youth in the mirror
And the only witness to my first grief on your breast
Is the breath of the sand,
The starry sky and God’s gaze on the call to prayer.
And cursed it to advance so much in its own din.
This soil that gave birth to me, today put to death.
Oh mother! I want to return inside your flesh
To hear the beating of your heart,