Ali Kadhim and Chris George translate Salaiman Juni

Routine

The morning appeared like the barking of a distant dog—it flew past our neighbor’s house, arrived at our house, and crossed the garden where it collided with the lamp post– undeterred, it continued to march like a fearless tank until it reached the edge and almost fell—I dragged my body outside and tried to follow its footsteps, but I forgot to take my face with me and left it on the table, smiling stupidly like a dark dream. Although I was unafraid, the morning quickly passed like the barking of a distant dog—it flew past our neighbor’s house, arrived at our house, and crossed the garden where it collided with the lamp post—it continued to march until it reached the edge and almost fell—I dragged my body outside and tried to follow its footsteps, but I forgot to carry my face with me and left it on the table, smiling stupidly like a dark dream. Although I was unafraid, the morning quickly passed like the barking of a distant dog—it flew past our neighbor’s house, arrived at our house, and crossed the garden where it collided with the lamp post—it continued to march until it reached the edge… etc… etc…

Secret

My father rolls up his sleeves and digs into the night’s heart. As a smile falls off of his mouth and breaks like an old Babylonian god inadvertently fallen out of the archaeologist’s hand, he says:

Someone opens a gap in the magician’s book, and I’m afraid of being endlessly tormented by the secret.

At the time, I did not know the secret, and I did not pay attention to what it said. I was asleep next to the boat of Danish pirates and sailed with them to the other side of the world.

After I remove the rust from the mouth of the poet,

I can confide the secret to you

Solitude

We are here—in this room—almost every day of the year. We mow the grass, and we mow it again when it grows tall. When our mothers delivered us, we were philosophers, but over time we became mere farmers whose only task is to mow the grass.

We are here almost every day of the year. We only leave this room on holidays, and when we do, we discover that in this wasteland nothing grows, nothing at all. The faces we see on our eternal march look exactly like our faces; when we talk to them, we realize that they babble in a foreign tongue, and to them, our tongue is foreign too. For entertainment we always give them 10-centimeter tall statues to take back to their rooms, and this is how they remember us when they mow the grass.

Often we find statues erected in our rooms, just like the ones we gave to the other philosophers, and it seems to me that it is the other philosophers, who speak in foreign tongues, who have given them to us.

A Disguise Party

 

1

While the king and the minister stare at a statue of Jesus, the minister suggests that the king wipe the virgin’s tears. He gives him the handkerchief, but the king trembles, and his hand stumbles by the tree that is painted on it. Jesus falls, but only breaks his nose. No one is saddened by the accident; it was a cheap statue.

2

This time we do not laugh at the clown. He is one of the invited, just like us.

3

Three Draculas compete next to the neglected fence. My girlfriend says: I saw the fourth one hide in the basement.

4

The mailman hands me a letter; he says it is from Mr. Noah. I open the letter and see an ark and flood. At the bottom of the letter, God watches what happens. I fold the paper and give it to my girlfriend. I tell her that we are at a disguise party. I assure you that this ark will never sink, Jesus will never break, Dracula will never hide in the basement. Everyone will go back to their homes, take off these clothes, and lay down naked on their beds, just like us. 

A Life That Doesn’t Want to End

Baudelaire is actually Mr. Noah himself. Six hundred years ago, we used to call him Mr. Holago. A boy from Al-Thawra flips the pages of a book that says: “We were prisoners in a camp on the outskirts of Baghdad, but we were able to escape accompanied by Danish pirates to distant lands.” It also states: “During our stay in the cave, we have neither raised a prophet to guide us to the end, nor invented a new word for grandchildren, nor plucked a flower at the beginning of the year. We were incessantly counting our fingers the whole time until someone broke the secret to him; we found him right in front of us holding a kitchen knife. Terrified, we scattered across endless roads and houses. Now, we are writing our answers to philosophical questions; we are writing, attempting to persuade our British neighbor that we hardly escaped the wasteland safely.”

A Watch in the Stew Pot

A letter from Mr. Plato arrived; he says:

“Dear poet X,

After your absence, we have found a watch in the stew pot. It is as dead as the time that is empty of you. On your behalf, we buried it in the city cemetery, and on its grave we placed a toy as a headstone. As far as we are concerned, we live outside of time. What we really fear is that we won’t be born again.”

I wrote back to him:

“Dear Mr. Plato,

There are no poets in this room. No one among us bears that name. We are merely philosophers who look exactly like you. We are also waiting for another watch in lieu of the one we found in the stew pot.”

Ali Kadhim

Ali Kadhim was born in Iraq, but has lived and worked in the United States since 1998. His Arabic poems have appeared in many literary newspapers, journals, websites, as well as in two anthologies featuring Arabic poetry in exile. He published one poetry collection in Arabic in 2002. 

Chris George

Chris George is a poet and translator who lives and teaches in Dallas, Texas. His work has been published in numerous journals, including The Arts United, Entropy, and Sarah Lawrence's LUX. He has forthcoming translations in Asymptote and in Words without Borders' new podcast Play for Voices.

Salaiman Juhni

Salaiman Juhni is an Iraqi poet who left Iraq for Denmark in 1991. His poems, which are written in prose or free verse, have surprised readers through their use of fantasy and surreal worlds, where time and space are fluid, yet are defined by a keen sense of place and history. Memories of childhood in Iraq are mixed with events that happen in modern Copenhagen; nightmares of years of war and dictatorship are imbued with contemplations and dialogues between classic and modern thought, from Plato to Nietzsche. English translations of his poems are forthcoming in Asymptote.

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