Arabic poetry: Five Poems by Mu’ayyad al-Rawi

Translated by Sinan Antoon

Posted by Jadaliyya


I dreamt of a field of butterflies
Where a child is jumping
in a meadow of flowers
A butterfly embroidered with blueness flaps its wings
It follows the child
and he follows it
It touches his fingers and flutters
on his tiny forehead

I dreamt again of two colorful butterflies
pulling clouds toward joy

But the dream was interrupted by a dream
when I wondered:
How can butterflies live
and rejoice
in this overwhelming ruin?


I go on this road
to reach the end

Being stubborn, it takes me to yet another road
I walk with dread
It leads me to obscure paths
Lowlands, ravines, and mountains
It orders me to be dispersed
On this and that road
I don’t gamble on roads
I am a drifter
who sculpts sidewalks
What I want from my step
is to throw sparks
What I leave behind
and the roads stay there


Because it’s far and fraught
I will go to it on a ship guarded by submarines
I will land on its ruined Citadel
I am no Noah to send doves
and wait for the good tidings of life
There are hunters in the city firing at the sky
Since reaching it is impossible
I will go on a plane and cross its skies
From the captain’s cabin, I will observe
what has been destroyed
Its river is dry
streams buried
People in Baklar, Sari Kahya, and Shatirloo
Have no hope for the city to rise again
and repeat its names
At noon tobacco smugglers sleep
in their wide carts
They don’t ask about destiny’s wisdom
Thieves are holding the city’s keys
They lend them to strangers

My city is darkness
I will pass by it
and leave it for good

The Game

The game is over and we haven’t even started
The world narrows
In the dark, each looks at their mirror
Insects come out of it
Crows fly
Foxes retreat
The game is over
The train goes on without stopping
The last station is desolate
Surrounded by dry grass
A few crows and foxes
The scared squirrels
stand in their holes
Many a hunter watches
the twilight’s red line
Shooting his arrow at the last traveler
All the travelers are weighed down by their years
Suddenly a strike, more potent lightening
burns the grass
and kills all beings

Narrating the Singular


I am I
I don’t leave a shadow when the sun rises
I go into a river twice
First to look into a mirror
Then to pick the lilies
floating on its bank
At night, my ghost leaves me
to look for treasures
Surveying combat zones
I walk the road alone
The mirror doesn’t reflect my image
Still water doesn’t repeat me
when I wade through it

No one names me
or calls me by another’s name
The top floors are mine
The stairs go up to fuse encounters
My kingdom is beneath cities
In every spot, I dig
and put a piece of my heart

But I chew on it first
to know that it’s mine


[Translated from the Arabic by Sinan Antoon. From Sard al-Mufrad (Narrating the Singular) (Beirut/Baghdad: Manshurat al-Jamal, 2016)] [Mu`ayyad al-Rawi was born in Kirkuk in 1939. He was one of the members of the “Kirkuk Group.” He was imprisoned in 1963 after the Ba`th coup for two years. In 1970, he left Baghdad to Amman and then Beirut. In 1980 he moved to Berlin where he lived until his death in 2015]

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