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About this poet

Dunya Mikhail is the author of several books, including The Iraqi Nights (New Directions, 2014); Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, 2009), winner of the 2010 Arab American Book Award for Poetry; and The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005). Her honors include the Kresge Artist Fellowship and the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. She currently lives in Michigan, where she works as an Arabic lecturer at Oakland University.

Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea [excerpt]

Through your eye
history enters
and punctured helmets pour out.

Frequent tremors occur in your land
as if invisible hands shake your trees day and night.

They blockaded you and banished the oxygen from your water,
leaving the hydrogen atoms to quarrel with one another.

Shouldn't the nations be disturbed by the face of a child
who shuts her mouth and eyes
in surrender to UN resolutions?
But they only opened their own mouths slightly,
smaller than a bud,
as if yawning or smiling.

We made room in our day for every star,
and our dead remained without graves.

We wrote the names of each flower on the walls
and we, the sheep, drew the grass
—our favorite meal—
and we stood with our arms open to the air
so we looked like trees.
All this to change the fences into gardens.
A naïve bee was tricked and smashed into a wall,
flying toward what it thought was a flower.
Shouldn't the bee be able to fly over the fence-tops?

Long lines are in front of us.
Standing, we count flasks of flour on our fingers
and divide the sun among the communicating vessels.

We sleep standing in line
and the experts think up plans for vertical tombs
because we will die standing.

Copyright © 2009 by Dunya Mikhail. From Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, 2009), translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Copyright © 2009 by Dunya Mikhail. From Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, 2009), translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Dunya Mikhail

Dunya Mikhail is the author of several books, including The Iraqi Nights (New Directions, 2014), Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, 2009), and The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005).

 

by this poet

poem
The martyr couldn't believe his eyes
when his tomb was bombed
as he braided a garland for his beloved—
a red garland,
yet...on the way to heaven ...
it turned white.
He bent toward the water with a small rainbow clutched in his hand.

In this way he makes music.
He lifts is hands to the clouds and braids her
poem

In Iraq,

after a thousand and one nights,

someone will talk to someone else.

Markets will open

for regular customers.

Small feet will tickle

the giant feet of the Tigris.

Gulls will spread their wings

and no one will fire at

poem
How magnificent the war is!

How eager

and efficient!

Early in the morning

it wakes up the sirens

and dispatches ambulances

to various places

swings corpses through the air

rolls stretchers to the wounded

summons rain

from the eyes of mothers

digs into the earth

dislodging many things

from under the