Singing Iraq: poetry by Hashem Shafiq

Hashem Shafiq
11 August 2003

The three Iraqi poets whose work is featured in openDemocracy – Fadhil Assultani, Salah Niazi, and Hashem Shafiq – all spoke at an event at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in May 2003. Read here extracts of their discussion about language, literature and patriotism.

The translations come from Iraqi Poetry Today, the Spring 2003 issue of Modern Poetry in Translation.

Don’t miss too the work of the Kurdish poet Choman Hardi.

The Mountain

I have washed the mountain,
I have washed the stones and the snow,
and I have washed the sand.
I have washed the pebbles
and the wind that clings to the trees.
I have washed the mountain,
I have lit the paths
and the back ways around the mountain.
I have lit the caves and the stairs
and the hideouts in the folds of the mountain.
I have washed the summit
and every crevice of the mountain
so that my loved ones might pass
in the forenoon of the mountain day.

I will kiss my beloved’s tears
and her other gestures.
I will kiss my beloved’s drowsiness
as she teeters on the edge of sleep.
I will kiss my beloved’s insides.
I will kiss the air that sleeps in her lungs.
I will kiss the fluttering of her eyelids.
I will kiss the sway of her flowing dress.
I will kiss her deep wound covered with roses.
I will kiss her laughter before it issues from her lips.
I will kiss her thoughts before they form.
I will kiss her evanescent scent.
I will kiss her breath before it alights on the pillow.
I will kiss every inch of my love.
I will kiss her voice,
her cool shadow,
the colour of her discontent,
the shape of her delight.
I will kiss her intuition,
her fiery mind.
I will kiss her dreams
while she is deep in sleep.
I will kiss her stirred imagination.
I will kiss the gentleness in the edges of her clothes,
the elegance of her steps,
her dalliance with the wind.
I will kiss her desperate panting
and her lust coagulated in silk.
I will kiss her reflection in the fountains,
her appearance in mirrors.
I will kiss her flanks and her curves
and the space underneath her nails.
I will kiss the sunset as it glows on my beloved’s cheek.
I will kiss my beloved’s heartbeats
and her apprehensions.
I will kiss her feelings as I sleep,
intoxicated beneath her sky.

(translated by Saadi A Simawe and Ralph Saverese)


My daughter works each night
to make my knee her pillow.
I tell her tale after tale
until she falls asleep.
I tell her about the silk of the moon.
I tell her about coloured waters,
walking playgrounds,
the buried fortunes in her hair.
I tell her about scattered stars
drifting down through the sky like feathers.
I tell her about a blue orange
and a mountain circling the city all night
and a pure white elephant.
I tell her about everything.
But when she asks for my story, I slip
around this corner and that
until she drowses on my knee and falls asleep.

(translated by Saadi A Simawe an Ellen Doré Watson)


Nobody told me when I was born
that my life would be harder than my father’s and son’s lives.
Nobody told me when I was a child
that life was full of pits and tunnels and trackless labyrinths.
Nobody told me when I was a youth
that my homeland was not a homeland
and that my enemy and friend are aligned against me
and my lover would be as fickle as a chameleon.
Nobody, except Brecht, told me when I was a young man
that exiles are shoes,
and only Sartre told me
that political parties are religions,
and only Abu al-Atahiah told me that mankind is a curse.
And when I became an adult,
I did not tell myself: beware of tomorrow.

(Ismail ibn al-Qasim Abu al-Atahiah (CE 748-826), an ascetic poet, was born in Kufa, Iraq, and died in Bagdhad)

(translated by Saadi A Simawe and Ralph Savarese)

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