Lami‘ah Abbas Amarah: elegiac reflections on the 1991 Gulf War1

Translated by Salih J. Altoma


Just like in the old days, Baghdad has come to embrace me.

Has Baghdad come to this faraway land?

The flowers of love in each greeting hand

bring back cherished memories.

In Baghdad’s alleys, I smell spices,

Fragrance of the Anbar rice simmering

As I walk home from school, hungry at noon.

And you, my loved ones, you are my migrating homeland,

The companions of my journey,

United we are by our love for Iraq,

By our haunting anxieties,

United in a choking sensation.

Yes, we choke, while here the food is plentiful

There, in Baghdad, a child starves,

An old man goes hungry,

And a dispossessed woman is left with nothing to sell.

Our blood has been shed, but has the exalted Arab honor

Emerged unstained?

Yes, we go on choking

For we know by name every one of those who starve,

Those who die for lack of medicine

We know by name every one of those, whose homes have been plundered,

The merchants who were killed in their own shops,

Those who perished senselessly,

Those who became insane

Or were maimed, or missing.

We know them all by name.

Scattered are our souls

Half here, half there,

We reside in two different places,

Only our bodies live far from Iraq’s soil.

Amarah (This and ‘Basrah’ are originally parts of the poem ‘Tears on a Sad Iraqi Face’)

O my memories of Amarah. I hear rockets blasting my memories.

There my life began.

I recall summer times, the sad melodies of the nocturnal flute

Chattering on sleepless roofs.

My love is: Amarah, my grandfather’s house, and

The road to my school.

Walking along the river al-Kahla` was my song.

Now the songs are silenced,

Even the songs were not spared death.

And now, by the order of my enemy, I shall pay for each bomb that fell on my



O Basrah, confluence of the two rivers,

Of the two wars,

O most noble hearted of Iraqi cities,

O hill of ruins, O mass graveyard.

The thorns of all the palm trees

Poke through my heart.

There is nothing more ignoble,

More despicable than this war.

Suspension Bridge [Written in the Iraqi vernacular]

It is not the bridge but my rib that has been smashed.

O most beautiful bridge, a band girding the Tigris

Beneath it water glitters, sunset glows

A bridge binding the two quarters, Karkh and Rusafa, forever intertwined

O joy of the bridal processions crossing the bridge

leaving behind their perfume

Woe to the hand that destroyed it, destroying every inch of history, every

feeling of joy.

Tears on a Sad Iraqi Face

I rested my head on an Iraqi chest and wept

his heart endured the same sorrow as mine

he caressed and calmed me; I slept

as branches of sadness, interlaced between

our souls, moan even in our silence

O wailing heart, O most beautiful eyes

I have ever seen

What has united us?

The cruelty of this war?

Or the passion of love?

O sad face from my homeland.

What tears what love can wash that sad face?

O my family, now only terror fills their hunger,

Fills their thirst. O the panic of resurrection.

Is there any road that does not lead

them to destruction and Hell.

Any shelter for them?

What age do we live in? An age of barbarism?

Or an age of civilization,

Disgraced by its deeds in Amiriyyah.

This is the gloom of a defeated knight,

his hands paralyzed,

his forehead bearing the brunt of destruction,

all the sadness of the burning palm trees

all the wailing songs from the South,

all the echoes of lamentation.

O palm trees of Samawah

How much cruelty can exist in this world?

Seventy thousand children, sweet as dates

— No, even sweeter – have fallen,

Along with your burning leaves, for what sins O palm trees of Samawah?

Like a headstrong mare I was.

I tripped not

Nor was I easy to subdue

Possessing the pride of the palm trees

Of my homeland’s ageless hospitality.

My pride was to starve, rather than to bend, defiant, like the palm tree.

Alas! Led I was one day to forget my pride

When my own guide misled me.

Lo and behold! Now I stretched out my hands asking for charities,

Dispensed by the same hands that destroyed civilization.


Yesterday I had my own name

So did my children and my sister

Suddenly overnight we were all named ‘enemy’

One name for all of us

Like one school uniform

Oh! How painful this ‘enemy’ name is!

All my life I sought equality as a salvation

How has it turned into bitter reality, animosity, and bullets?

And we, all of us, have been indiscriminately called ‘enemy’?

America! I have loved you since my childhood

How often I sailed in my dreams toward you!

Paper was my boat

I sailed across the Atlantic

Anchoring in Manhattan

Telling tales from the ‘Arabian Nights’

Oh! How beautiful children’s dreams!

I sought you, America, a refuge

Like a weary bird singing for love and hopes

Then what?

Here I am a wounded bird

More weary than ever

Cast out at your door

My love songs withered in fear

And died on your soil.

I have become a suspect

Like the wildest criminals

But I did not bear arms

Nor did I conceal heroin under my skin

Why did they skin me at airports?

From among all other travellers

Why am I alone an ‘enemy’?

I did not starve a child in California

Nor did I, in malice, burn factories

I did not destroy a bridge over the Hudson River

I did not bomb Seattle

I did not garb thousands of widows with black garments

Why am I then called ‘enemy’?

O God! With my heart full of love

How did ‘enemy’ become my name?



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