10 Years Later: 2 Translations Sargon Boulus’s ‘A Refugee Tells’

On March 19, ten years will have passed since the US first invaded and occupied Iraq.

boulus [sargon] 05Poet Sargon Boulus died in October 2007, while the war raged and the Occupation was digging itself in, just a few months after poet Nazik Al-Malaika.

Youssef Rakha wrote in 2011:

Sargon never gathered wealth, fame or clout; he did not for a moment trade in his prodigal talent for wider or deeper recognition. To this day the Iraqi with the strange name is seldom celebrated in the mainstream cultural media. Yet as I think again of the fall Baghdad, Sargon tells me more about what it means than any Iraqi I know of.

Rakha went on to share Boulus’s poem “اللاجئ تحكي ” as:

The refugee tells

The refugee absorbed in telling his tale

feels no burning, when the cigarette stings his fingers.

He’s absorbed in the awe of being Here

after all those Theres: the stations, and the ports,

the search parties, the forged papers…

He dangles from the chain of circumstance –

his destiny wound like fibre,

in rings as narrow as

those countries on whose chest

the nightmares have piled up. Keep reading.

The same poem was translated by Kees Nijland as:


A refugee absorbed in talking
Did not feel the cigarette burn his fingersSurprised to be here
After being there – stations, harbours,
Visitations, forged papersDepending on a chain of details
His future was fibre-like
Laid out in small circles
An oppressive country
Afflicted by nightmares
Keep reading.

If you want to read more:

Boulus’s collection Knife Sharpener  was published by Banipal Books, and Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon has been working on a new collection of Boulus’s work. Meantime:

The Child of War, trans. Antoon

A Portrait of an Iraqi Person at the End of Time, trans. Antoon

To Imru’ al-Qays on his Way to the Inferno, trans. Suneela Mubayi (with commentary)

To the Master of the Banquet, trans. Antoon

The Meaning of My Prayer,  trans. Antoon

Two Poems: Railroad and A Pouch of Dirt, trans. Antoon

The Corpse, trans. Antoon

Siege, trans. Sargon Boulus and Alistair Elliot

Tea with Mouayed al-Rawi in a Turkish café in Berlin, The Letter ArrivedThe Refugee Tells, and more, trans. Youssef Rakha.

A Butterfly’s Dream, trans. Kees Nijland (Arabic side-by-side)

A Man Fell On His Knees, trans. Kees Nijland (Arabic side-by-side)

A Refugee Talking, trans. Kees Nijland (Arabic side-by-side)

An Elegy for Sindbad Cinema, trans. Kees Nijland (Arabic side-by-side)

How Eastern Singing Was Born, trans. Kees Nijland (Arabic side-by-side)

I Came from There, trans. Kees Nijland (Arabic side-by-side)

Tu Fu in Exile, trans. Kees Nijland (Arabic side-by-side)

Four Poems: The Siege, The Borders, The Letter Arrived, and Incident in a Mountain Village, trans. Sargon Boulus

Four Poems: The Ziggurat Builders and O Player in the Shadows, The Legend of al-Sayyab and the Silt and A Key to the House, trans. Boulus