Sunday, August 08, 2004

Saadi Youssef: "This Iraq Will Reach the Ends of the Graveyard"

"Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit on Friday, the second day of advance in the Najaf cemetery, formerly a sanctuary for militiamen" (Lucian M. Read/World Picture News).

The photograph above, which accompanied Sabrina Tavernise and John F. Burns's article "U.S. Officers Say Two-Day Battle Kills 300 Iraqis" (New York Times, August 7, 2004), reminds me of the first six lines of a 1997 poem by Saadi Youssef, an Iraqi socialist poet who has lived "a life of forced departures":

This Iraq will reach the ends of the graveyard.
It will bury its sons in open country
generation after generation,
and it will forgive its despot.
It will not be the Iraq that once held the name.
And the larks will not sing.
So walk -- if you wish -- a long time.
And call -- if you wish --
on all the world's angels
and all its demons.
Call on the bulls of Assyria.
Call on a westward phoenix.
Call them
and through the haze of phantoms
watch for miracles to emerge
from clouds of incense.

Amman, 8/3/1997

(Saadi Youssef, Without an Alphabet, Without a Face, trans. Khaled Mattawa, Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2002)

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