Mahmoud Darwish: I Remember al-Sayyab

Darwish wrote this poem during the Second Gulf War.  This translation was published in the London Review of Books, 24 June, 2004.

I Remember al-Sayyab*

Mahmoud Darwish

~~translated by Taline Voskeritchian and Christopher Millis~~

I remember al-Sayyab, his futile cries across the Gulf:

‘Iraq, Iraq, nothing but Iraq,’

And nothing answers but an echo.

I remember al-Sayyab under these same Sumerian skies

Where a woman surmounted the void

To make us heirs to earth and exile.

I remember al-Sayyab . . .  Poetry is born in Iraq,

So belong to Iraq—become a poet, my friend!

I remember al-Sayyab did not find the life

He’d imagined between the Tigris and Euphrates,

And did not think like Gilgamesh of the leaves of immortality,

And did not think of resurrection and beyond . . .

I remember al-Sayyab lifted from Hamurabi

A legal code to hold against his shame.

I remember al-Sayyab when I’m feverish

Or worse: My brothers are making dinner

For General Hulagu’s army—no other servants but my brothers!

I remember al-Sayyab, how either of us ever imagined

Nectar the bees might not merit,

Or that it would take more than two small hands

To reach our absence.

I remember al-Sayyab. Dead ironsmiths rise up

From the ground to fashion us shackles.

I remember al-Sayyab. Poetry is desire and exile,

Twins.  We wanted no more

Than a life and death to call our own.

‘Iraq, Iraq,

Nothing but Iraq . . .

*The Iraqi poet Bad Shaker al-Sayyab, who died in Kuweit in 1964, was a pioneer of the free verse movement in modern Arabic literature.


About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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2 Responses to Mahmoud Darwish: I Remember al-Sayyab

  1. Diala says:

    stunning homage to both men and the extraordinart woman that celebrates their calls from beyond

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