The Red Suns, Purple Moons, and Gun-Carrying Mice of Syrian Poet Da’ad Haddad

By Ibtihal Rida Mahmood

“Now, I could repeat the same sentence over and over for an hour, and, in the end, I still won’t be able to convey the true meaning behind it,” says a melancholic, slightly agitated Nazih Abu Afach to Hala Alabdalla’s camera, as the two are parsing a sentence; a verse of poetry by Da’ad Haddad (1937-1991) that would later become the title of Alabdalla’s award-winning documentary:

I am the one who brings flowers to her own grave,

And weeps… from too much poetry.

“If she, Da’ad Haddad, wrote this poetry and no one heard of it, and it wasn’t published, and I found it in our house the same way I found her play, I would’ve attributed it to myself with a clear conscience,” Abu Afach continues. “Such poetry of such high quality, by my poetic and humane standards… I cannot remain unbiased before such poetry.”

In her poetry world, the sun is red. The moon is purple. Snow is ubiquitous. Winter is eternal. Childhood is made too ephemeral. Love is a tattered draft. Lonely women have mastered the game of waiting. Everyone is watching everyone through stained glass—sometimes through shattered glass. A khaki sweater is a poor woman’s fluffy mattress. There’s a guard at every place worth the trip. Mice carry guns. Monsters steal love, not money or Solomon’s mines. Silent poets destroy the world. Books open their mouths, hungry for freedom. A flower blooms in the throat at the break of silence. Death dries up.

Although Da’ad Haddad published two poetry collections—Correcting Death’s Mistake and A Crumb of Bread is Enough For Me—in the 1980s, the Latakia native’s literary influence and renown were to be posthumous, ushered in by the publication of The Tree Leaning Towards the Ground and There is Light after her passing in 1991 in Damascus, where she died at the age of 54. A full collection of her works was finally made available by the Damascus-based Dar al-Takween in 2018, prefaced by three Syrian poets: the late Bandar Abdel Hamid (d. 2020), Nazih Abu Afach, and Suzan Ali. 

Haddad often timestamped her poems; clearly, she wrote most of them during the wee hours. Was she an insomniac, a workaholic, or a dark romantic? 

It may be dangerous to draw conclusions about a writer’s character and lifestyle based solely on their work, but it is tempting to say the nocturnes of Da’ad Haddad, laden with metaphors of existential anxiety amounting to metaphysical nihilism, betray a deep sense of disappointment in the world, so deep that the poetess chose to build rapport with Death itself, perhaps even saw it as the only dignified escape:

And I am alone

I don’t have anything

I don’t have freedom

Except my heart, laden with love

Kill me… And win a dollar

There is a deafening cacophony of tones in these few lines. Beyond the overpowering ring of desperation, depression, and self-deprecation, there is a subtler tone of sarcasm, mocking the absurdity of it all and pointing at the negligible price of a life. In another poem, she surrenders her poetic persona to her loneliness, to the extent of drowning:

Here’s the lonely blue coffin

Here’s the lonely dress

Throw me, like a boat, into the sea

A cloak in this blue desert

The following night, she longs for company through her persona’s thirst for death, as she writes:

 How beautiful would it be to kill ourselves together

 In an abandoned well


Our fingers stuck to the moldy wall

 How beautiful

 Is that abysmal oblivion

In the wells of the world

In the wells of African forests

 In the heart of the desert, anxious like fire

 How beautiful would it be to die together…

Her coveted death, however, was lurking around the corner, only five years ahead. As her physical world shrank through poverty and sickness, her poetic world expanded. And as with the Syrian poet Riyad al-Saleh al-Hussein (1954-1982), one cannot help but wonder if, during her life, she could see well into the future, as far as twenty years past her departure, when she wrote her poem “Get ready, the tools for embalming are ready”:

Small bare feet,

Race the mice in the alleys,

Raise a rock in their face:

While the mice raise… a gun!

The following poems by Da’ad Haddad are translated by Ibtihal Rida Mahmood.

I Will Count My Steps

O dreary path!

O path of love!

I will count my steps,

Loneliness taught me to count.


My mother carried me one day, and you

Dropped me one day.

That twinkle in your eyes, sometimes strobing, sometimes faint.

I will count my steps,

Loneliness taught me to count.


The guard was vigilant

Two treacherous eyes, and binoculars.

I hurried before my foot stepped amiss

Before nightfall, alone

I will count my steps,

Loneliness taught me to count.


Going back, someone held my hand.

Behind his eyes, I hid:

Here’s warmth, and shelter.

I will count my steps,

Loneliness taught me to count.


My fearful heart was broken

But I kept it

And was always stronger than my memory

So that I wouldn’t forget

To count to ten.

And when you held me with the tenderness of a penguin

My heart stuttered

I said: One—

Looked in your eyes, lost my way, and said:

Two, ten…

 Feb 19, 1976

سأعد خطواتي

!أيها الدرب الموحش

!يا درب الحب

سأعد خطواتي،

.فالوحدة علّمتني العد


،أمي حملتني يوماً، وأنت

،أوقعتني يوماً

،بعينيك ذلك الوهج المتوهج حيناً، والخافت حيناً

..سأعد خطواتي

.فالوحدة علمتني العد


..الحارس كان بالمرصاد

،عينان خبيثتان، ومنظار

،أسرعتُ قبل أن تخطئ قدمي

قبل أن يهبط الليل، وحدي،

..سأعد خطواتي

.فالوحدة علّمتني العد


،في العودة، أمسك أحدهم بيدي

،خلف عينيه، اختبأت

،هنا دفء، وأمان

..سأعد خطواتي

.فالوحدة علمتني العد


،قلبي الخائف.. كان بائساً

،ولكني احتفظت به

وكنت دوماً أقوى من ذاكرتي

..كي لا أنسى

..أن أعد إلى العشرة

وحينما ضممتني إليك بحنو طائر البطريق

..تلعثم قلبي

..قُلتُ: واحد

:نظرتُ في عينيك تهتُ.. قلتُ

..اثنان، عشرة

19 شباط 1976

I Am the One Who Brings Flowers to Her Own Grave

I am the daughter of the devil

I am the daughter of this crazy night

Daughter of my own awareness

And my friend. I

Am the oldest of people

My wine is in my veins

I’m the one who brings flowers to her own grave,

And weeps—from too much poetry.

Atop my blush, palaces are built.

He strolls in my blood

And the poppies

Snatch my stupor from my field.

These cushions are for the maids

And those are my stolen gems

My knives are startling

And from my eyes, the rain falls.

And the world—is my home.

Close your eyes—

I will pass by alone.

Like the tip of a spear—

When your tears—rain down.


Night of March 17-18, 1:30 a.m. 

أنا التي تحمل الزهور إلى قبرها

…أنا ابنة الشيطان

…أنا ابنة هذه الليلة المجنونة

…ابنة وعيي

وصديقي… أنا

…أنا أكثر الناس عتقاً

…أنا خمري في شراييني

،أنا من تحمل الزهور إلى قبرها

.وتبكي… من شدة الشعر

،أعلى حيائي تبنى القصور

،يتنزه… في دمائي

،وزهور شقائق النعمان

…تخطف من حقلي شرودي

،هذي الوسائد… للوصيفات

،وتلك أحجاري… المسروقة

،وسكاكيني يُجفل منها

،ومن عيوني يهطل المطر

…والعالم… داري

،أغمضوا… أعينكم

،سأمرّ وحيدة

…كحدّ الرمح

…حين هطول… دموعكم


الواحدة والنصف من ليل 17-18 آذار

Whom May These—Concern?

I will write about love,

and the fire—and the firewood—

and the sun—and freedom—

and the daily waiting.

And whom may these—concern?

This mind-wandering, this sadness,

And this intimacy: open up!

I am passing by, retreating, alone,

And my basket is empty.

In my hand are sticks of firewood

In my eyes: a hut, and a forest


And a wait—


January 30, 1986

هذه الاهتمامات… لمن؟

سأكتب عن الحب،

…والنار… والحطب

…والشمس… والحرية

…والانتظار اليومي

!وهذه الاهتمامات… لمن؟

…وهذا الشرود والحزن

!وهذه الألفة… افتحوا

…أنا أمر مودّعة ووحيدة

…وسلّتي فارغة

،وبيدي عيدان حطب

…وبعينيّ… كوخ… وغابة




30 كانون الثاني 1986

The Tree Leaning Towards The Ground


Three children

Are digging my grave in the snow:

Loneliness, and sadness, and freedom.

Three innocent children

Their faces red from fatigue

From the thirst to bury me.

Three children:

Loneliness, and sadness, and freedom

Under showers of rain, or snow

They dig—

They dig deep, and the snow—

is deep—deep—deep—

A forsaken lake.



الشجرة التي تميل نحو الأرض


…ثلاثة أطفال

.يحفرون قبري في الثلج

…الوحدة والحزن والحرية

…ثلاثة أطفال… أبرياء

…إنهم حمر الوجوه من التعب

…ومن الشوق لدفني

…ثلاثة أطفال

الوحدة والحزن والحرية

تحت وابل المطر… أو الثلج


…إنهم يحفرون بعمق، والثلج

…عميق… عميق… عميق

…بحيرة منسية



There is Light


You show up, unhurried—

Assured of the outcome.


Or else—

My departure is—near—?!

Summer 1987

ثمة ضوء


…تأتي متمهلاً

…واثقاً من النتائج

…ألا، فارحل


!فرحيلي… قريب…؟

صيف 1987


Ibtihal Rida Mahmood is a Jordanian American writer and translator based in New England, USA.

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