Six Poems

Asmaa Azaizeh


If they were to borrow from the forests
the necessary vagueness for their image,
they would be lying,
the image laid bare.

Our cities will remain
on their knees, hopeless,
falling like slaughtered goats,
raping our cunts with brooms.
They are the true forests.

From the kitchen my mother announced
the fall of Baghdad.
There were nations and uncountable shaved heads  
standing in the living room
as the bare forests wept.
No vagueness but in their books.

Whenever they borrowed from the sea
its blue to describe their intentions,
their mothers fell into the jaws of sharks.

If I said in a poem
that love is blind as carnage
and meant it,
I would be lying.
The victims would seek revenge
for my transgression
and strip your love from my skin.

I was lying when I likened
my desire to tigers.
The first is base,
the latter mighty.

When I tried to rouse a reader’s pity for my heart,
I made it shrivel like a pumpkin.
I was lying.
I made it yellow like the pages of the Old Testament.
I was lying.
I turned it into boiling tar.
I was lying.
I conjured a sewage ditch.
I was lying.
I sat it on a sharp stake.
I was lying.

It was a mute lump of clay,
nothing more.

When I swapped therapy sessions
for poems that cost nothing
to survive, and poured into them
the stuff of previous minds,
the lie flourished
like stalks in a forest.

Forgive me,
have I transgressed again?

I mean like sta—the li—
the stalks are li—

The point is.
The problem is not that poets are liars.
The tragedy is that they’re believed,
blindly as carnage.

Sacrificial Poem

I am a great admirer of the lives of prophets.
Reading them is like buying a lottery ticket:
the long fantasy they contain of a peaceful life,
perfectly empty.
So lost in thought you can hear God
whisper in your inner ear,
and you in turn mutter words unknown
to human invention.
You can see ultraviolet and infrared.
You speak the language of frogs.
You chase from your heart
all the anguish of mountains.
You rid the world of its habit
of eating its own waste.

Gentlemen, this is not a game,
not some trick to write a trifling poem,
not some ramble in a passing valley.
The prophets worked hard at it.
They saw so clearly each eyelid
abandoned the other, and they spoke
the words that have not left our lips
for thousands of years.

I want to speak like them
but my imagination is the size of a mouse hole
and all its bright, quick mice
were found slaughtered at its door.
I want to say a word about slaughter,
about the slaughtered tents
in slaughtered lands.
About their residents,
who fell from their mothers
already slaughtered.
About the mothers, slaughtered
in warehouses and wells
like hens
with the knives of their children.

Gentlemen, this is not a game.
This is infrared and ultraviolet.
Even acid cannot touch it.
We must be prophets
and madmen to see it.
I want to say a word about my indifference
to the nation,
about my sadness and the way
it clashes with this age of springs
fabricating hope.
I do not fabricate hope.
I wash the brains of my friends
and I tell them this nation is the size of a mouse hole
and I drag them to the plane door.
I want to say a word about those who have no planes,
to whose doors they cannot be dragged,
and when they go out in search of one,
are slaughtered and return
on ice, like vegetables.

But I will say nothing
for my neck is short and I cannot see
the bottom of the well.
My life is nothing
but a looping line
between home and work
and back.

On my way I see girls
hopping onto buses
with the lightness of hens,
and lottery tickets darkening
the city skies,
and slaughtered prophets
pecked by flies.

Hulegu and I

I have decided to wipe
the heat from the smiles
I drew before you.
Do not believe this cheer
the farmers forced on me.

I have no anger for the fathers
who put their children in ovens.
They are simply righting a mistake.
I have no anger for Hulegu.
He was simply too curious.
I have no anger for the dictatorships
that resemble the skirts of begging travellers
in Scandinavian countries.

I have no anger for you.
You emptied the salt shaker onto my wound without meaning to,
swooping over my chest like a vulture.
And when you get hungry you shred
my lambs with your nails,
as though they were picks
for your instrument.
We have given up thinking about the lambs.
We no longer know how to feel sorry for them
after they have disappeared into your stomach.

My anger is as buried as a street in Old Jerusalem,
as our photographs, no longer of the slightest use
to past or future.
I crush it like an old, slow mosquito,
no longer of the slightest use
to past or future.
I have simple questions about death
without the slightest use
to past or future.
Death of which Hulegu, age five, would draw pictures.
Personally, I drew scaffolds,
empty and ready,
and free rockets soaring in the sky
like mythical birds.

I grew up,
and remorse for my cruel imagination grew with me,
and we watched, my remorse and I,
(remorse without the slightest use to past or future)
the rockets soaring high around us,
and falling gently on the heads of our friends.

My Pointy Beak

I think of caves

I think of insides, hollow as caves

I think of the hollowness required to leave the insides of cells

I think of cells
and of the dogs at their doors
spreading their balls right and left

there, outside this cave, is a fast train
where people send their insides to meet their appetites
and appear at the windows
like chicks out of nests
beaks agape
beaks tapering
as though God had not yet found their final shape
beaks like behinds

a fast train driven by a convoy of dogs
now right, now left
this cave in the middle
the middle as in below
the middle as in outside

outside life, I see my poem
I write about love while you twist in hunger
I write about the rose that bloomed in my garden
in its shade my poem spreads its balls
and lays me bare

laid bare because of you
the insides of 16 thousand prisoners
form a long, muscular rope
to hang me in my garden

on their right, a wall of mine
a window on the sea
a notebook in which I entered
a question on the role of the mysterious dog
in the surah of the cave

my nails grow long because I insist
to no purpose on playing the guitar
my hair grows long because I was taught
that the hair of a woman is usually long
my babble which is like silence grows long
my silence which you hear now grows long

on their left, a wall growing longer
and drawing into itself
as though the cement were a grandparent or a child
or a whole generation of mine
cement as open as beaks that are like behinds
a door through which I will withdraw
to kick my poem in the stomach
and restore something of my dignity

first I will think about that grandparent
though I never met any of mine
about hunger
though I do not allow myself to know it well
about the hours in which loneliness multiplies like locusts
though before I have counted them
I fall into my princely bed
about the jailer
though I picture him idiotic with a pointy beak
and a tongue powerless over its own bray
about injustice and I am transformed
into a full-time journalist

I think of my head, hollow as a cave
I think of the dreadful life I must pack into my head
to get out a good poem


Yesterday I sent all my poems to the editor.
I feel as though I sent him my head
and that the words I speak from now on
will come out through his mouth.

Disasters never come alone
but in hordes, in hungry flocks,
as a poet once said before dying.
As for me, I said nothing
after I gave up my poems.
The poets got drunk every night under my window
and drummed their wise poems into me, and I,
despising wisdom,
despising force,
invited them in, and slit their throats like fat sheep
and had them for dinner.
Still, I did not recover
my voice, which I saw from the window
on a cross on top of the mountain.
I simply became
the reflection of a barren tree
in a puddle on the road.
Do not step over me.
Shade me from whatever sun
lest my trunk turn to vapour.
Perhaps then I will speak.
I will say that disasters may go out
if they are not fed with more wood.
But you did not hear me.
The mountain was made of wood.


The Arabs derived the word ustura, myth, from the Latin istoria, history. It was the most intelligent thing they did.

History was a dog tied to a tree. Passers-by felt sorry for its freedom, whose saliva seeped out from the corners of its mouth. They muttered a few words and moved on. Others came near and stroked its back, but their intentions started barking and they took off in fright. Then there were others who kicked it like a stumbling block, but it licked their feet and they tasted sweet. All it was thinking was how it could become the tree, and tie the passers-by to its trunk.

translated from the Arabic by Yasmine Seale

Editor’s Note: These poems were first read at a literary event, I’m the Stranger, organized by the Mahmoud Darwish Chair at BOZAR in Brussels on September 19, 2018.