A poem, newly in translation, by Iraqi author Ahmed Abdul Hussein:

By Khalida H. Tisgam

Al-Andalus Square, 1950.

I chose this poem because it painfully reflects a dark period in the history of Iraq; the oppressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein’s rule. The poem is penetrated by two routes: the first is temporal comparison, the poet makes between the present Iraq, with all its tragic burden, and the great history of Mesopotamia, wasted by political regimes. The second is spatial, and it employs the place, Al-Andalus Square, a famous square in Baghdad where you find the headquarters of Iraqi Writers Union as well as that of the dreadful General Security Directorate. In this poem, historical, mythological, and religious symbols all gather to form what might be deemed a brief history of Iraq.

Al-Andalus Square

By Ahmed Abdul Hussein

Translated by Khalida H. Tisgam

I’m contradicting myself;

my evidence leads me to ruin.

.

Yesterday,

when I uncovered my brother’s coffin,

I saw eternity:

.

a sheaf of banknotes lay scattered on a burnt face.

Have you stared into the face of a similar eternity?

.

Have you seen eternity?

I saw a boat deceived in the storm.

.

I saw a forgotten fire blazing at the brink of dawn.

Have you seen the mother?

.

Have you seen the grieving mother?

Her black cloak lurches as she dances out her mourning,

shaking hysterically at blood shed on her doorstep.

.

A cloak lurching since dawn, for blonde blood shed on the doorstep.

Have you seen me guarding boxes of weapons without knowing why?

Have you seen Kawthar spill her beliefs over the sewing machine and hurry to tie her veil?

.

Have you seen Abdul Raheem?

A black fountain overflowing in a white Quran.

.

This is our evidence that led us to ruin.

This is our Grand Disappearance, on whose interpretation we disagreed.

This is eternity:

We cram into a zone of muteness and talk about resurrection,

about foggy gardens plowing ahead into the decoration of funerals,

about the mouth that twists to say:

I am.

.

I am the triangular arrow that missed us all and settled in your bowels.

I am the ring that slipped from your slim little finger.

I am a candlestick that argues about the power of darkness inside you,

in your many holes.

And no one under this quavering planet will name you.

Nude and veiled,

as if a chorus of the mad were weeping in your stolen clothes.

As if the flavor of dawn had stopped you,

and tossed in your hands the chewed-up dirhams 

minted from gasps and bitter cold.

.

Be silent, then.

Let your noisy trumpets set their alarm in shadow,

where the vain winds roll over vain faces as vain lamps light the passions of the blind.

.

Or,

like lust found in a torn book 

to be shivered over, forever and ever.

.

But you are the name and its opposite,

You herald the clean body of the oppressed.

.

You are the miracle and its measures:

A mouth stuffed with banknotes.

.

You are the lock in my father’s door, distorting my meaning.

When Shimr Bin Thil Jawshan stretched his hands out of the gap,

clapping to the repentant, 

my father busied himself with his hands alternately crying and laughing over Babel and the tribes degenerating in books,

.

And in my name;

In the name of difficult natures,

my wisdom retreated

and I ended up with diseased evidence and peeling eloquence.

.

Here, I contradict myself!

Here, I come to you like a deceived boat in the storm.

Here is my tongue dragging along its obsessions:

The tribes, unkempt, struggling over a grain of barely, what’s their name?

The Grand Disappearance, and the interpretation over which we disagreed, what’s its name?

What’s the name of the gardens that are decorated for your salvation and my own, with horror?

What’s the name of the dove that preserves my eye until I’m a man?

Until I am overjoyed with vanities and buried beneath my names 

Such that none will look at me?

.

In my name,

In the name of another order of the universe

in the name of weak lightning that sheds its sermons on the sleepers,

I tried to find to a complete history that would summarize me,

to cram my whole life into one single scene.

I tried, but I could choose nothing but a familiar meaning:

A mysterious policeman yawning at Al-Andalus Square.

Shall I tell him “my proof leads me to you”?

Shall I ask him “Is this Uruk”?

Is this the cow that guards heaven’s main street?

Is this the drunken lantern that refreshed Socrates’ heart and on which Alexander’s bowels moaned?

.

Is this eternity:

A sheaf of banknotes in a burnt mouth?

.

Let us pray:

to lift the cover from our faces and run, breathlessly, each to his own desert,

each to his decayed fountain.

.

Let us pray.

But,

let us salute this depression; our joy that prepared our bones to flee.

Let us remember.

Let us forget.

Let us remember and forget.

Let us bless this head raised up from the prison cell, demanding its freedom:

.

I’m a walking contradiction;

My evidence leads me to ruin.

.

This poem also carries contradiction in its guts,

Because it and nothingness are watered from the same spring.

*

See the poet recite:


Ahmed Abdul Hussein an Iraqi poet born in Baghdad in 1966. He joined the Academy of Fine Arts/ Plastic Arts Department. In 1990 he had to flee Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. He’s worked as a cultural editor for multiple newspapers. He wrote two collections; Painful Beliefs, Part 1, was published in Spain, and Baptize Me with Wine Waves. He lived for five years in Canada, then returned home after 16 year-exile. He published other collections; Paradise of Nothingness, Painful Beliefs, Part 2, Thirst Does Not End, Neither Does the Fountain, and A Proof Concerning the Falsehood of the World.