Three Poems by Riyad Al-Saleh Al-Hussein

OCTOBER 22, 2022 — Syrian poet Riyad al-Saleh al-Hussein died on this day in 1981, at the age of 28. As Ibtihal Mahmood wrote back in 2018, his poetry remains “bold, invincible, and ‘simple like water, clear like a bullet’ — with a breathtaking prophetic trait immersed in blue.”

Today, three poems, selected by Ghada Alatrash, to commemorate his life and writing.

“Riyad dancing.” From Fadi Azzam’s Journey to the Graves of Three Poets (2016), with permission.

The Dagger

By Riyad Al-Saleh Al-Hussein

Translated by Ghada Alatrash

The man died

A dagger in his heart

A smile on his lips

The man died

The man promenades in his grave

He looks up

He looks down

He looks around

Nothing but soil

Nothing but the shiny grip of the dagger in his chest

The dead man smiles

He pats the grip of the dagger

The dagger is his only friend

The dagger

A dear memory from those above.

*

“In the company of friends.” From Fadi Azzam’s Journey to the Graves of Three Poets (2016), with permission.

A Moon

By Riyad Al-Saleh Al-Hussein

Translated by Ghada Alatrash

Everything that the shepherd has said to the mountain

And to the river and the trees

And everything that people have said and didn’t say

In dancing arenas and on battlegrounds,

I have told you.

About the girl who sings at the window

And the gravel that breaks under the wheels of the train

About the cemetery that has been sleeping happily for centuries,

I have told you.

A flower from my body, every morning

I pick for you and throw it into the streets

For leaders, wisemen, and thieves to trample

And a flower from my body, every evening

I collect its crumbled petals and gather them for you,

And I talk about all that has happened to me.

Once, I sat by you and cried

My heart a burning field of rice

My fingers hanging like the tongues of dogs on summer days.

I wished to express myself with actions:

To break a glass

To open a window

To sleep

But I couldn’t

What do I talk about after twenty-six years

Or after twenty-six bullets fired into emptiness?

I am tired of talking, of debt, and work

But I will never tire of freedom

And here I am, dreaming of one thing or a few things:

That the word becomes bread and grapes

A bird or a bed,

That I wrap my left arm around your shoulder

And my right around the shoulder of the world

And say to the moon:

Take a photo of us.

*

“His smile with Samar S”. From Fadi Azzam’s Journey to the Graves of Three Poets (2016), with permission.

The Flag

By Riyad Al-Saleh Al-Hussein

Translated by Ghada Alatrash

Take a look at him

Just look at him

His body had disintegrated

A long time ago

And still he carries the flag of freedom.

*

Riyal Al-Saleh Al-Hussein died at 28 years of age in 1981.  

Ghada Alatrash, PhD, is an Assistant Professor and Director at the School of Critical and Creative Studies at Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary, Canada. She holds a PhD in Educational Research: Languages and Diversity from the Werklund School of Education, the University of Calgary, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Oklahoma. Her current research speaks to Syrian art and creative expression as resistance to oppression and dictatorship.

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