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Dizza Castle

Salah Niazi

Apart from its name, I knew nothing of Dizza Castle before writing this poem. It was a reaction to a small report in a newspaper in which the reporter reminded his readers of the tragic destruction of the city of Dizza Castle which took place in 1974 in Iraq. First the population of the city was evacuated, then it was razed to the ground. The approach I took, when writing the poem, was to let the events speak for themselves. Although written in one steady go, the writing took about three days. The long poem is in keeping with an old Arabic tradition. In fact, nearly all major poems written in Arabic are long. ‘The Suspended Odes’, or the hanging poems as they are sometimes called, are but one example. (Incidentally these were translated into English several times. The first translation of at least one of these odes was done by Sir William Jones in 1783.) Moreover, nearly all modern Iraqi poets who were influenced by T. S. Eliot and ‘The Waste Land’ in particular, wrote longer poems. Al Sayyab, for instance, who was one of the initiators of free verse in the fifties of the last century wrote three long poems: the ‘Blind Harlot’, ‘Arms and the Children’, and ‘The Grave Digger’. The repetition in ‘Dizza Castle’ of words or phrases or even stanzas are but echoes of the style of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Dizza Castle

Translated by the author and edited by David Andrew

Everything normal, before reading the morning papers

The streets appear as everyday routes on a map

Too late now even for a miracle

Years late, nobody cares for it any more.

I locked myself up last night.

‘What to do with a miracle now?’, I said

Then slept, as if thrown into a dark void.


Everything as usual, before sitting in the café

And reading the morning papers.

The tea had not the savour of far-off family

Nor the bread the freshness of the field or

The warmth of loving hands

Why, even the trees appeared tired of standing…

Children’s faces are at work

Memorizing a lesson which flees from their minds

Dialogue between passers-by brief like a condolence.


Rumours lost their heat nor was there any sting in their


They were our only mercy

Glad tidings from one limb to another.

But now all rumours are the same

The days are the same

In an obsequious society

Everything comes to resemble everything else.


The most damnable of all murders is sameness

It makes even movement motionless

Like waves of brackish water.


I locked myself up last night

‘What to do with miracles now?’, I said

Even rumours have lost their bite, their sting.

Breasts drying up,

No trace of even viscous milk.


The streets appeared as everyday routes on a map.

Bits and bobs, vacuum cleaner

And insurance offices painted red

Loans on easy terms

An Italian snack bar full of steam and brassy songs.

The street totally normal

Things only things

Am I giving myself airs

Or trying to calm nagging misgivings?


If only things were as they appear

If only they might stay as they appear

The inside like the outside

Mere existence on the sidelines.

Last night I locked myself up

‘What would be gained from a miracle?’, I said.


Half of your child is in your own hands

The other in a monster’s jaws

What’s to be done?

The miracle late, too late now.


The morning light splashed my door

Like rain on dried-up plants

I was normal, before sitting in the café.


I do not know where Dizza Castle may be

I have not seen a single soul from Dizza Castle before

Not even in a photograph

Why is it called a Castle?


Its annals must be punctuated by attacks and siege-


One hundred thousand, said the paper

One hundred and thirty thousand human beings

Dragged from their homes, tugged by their hair

Struck on their mouths with rifle butts.


A friend who had just fled, told me I was

Like a blind man under threat of being shot

Running in all directions

His ears all in a whirl.


How do you comfort a blind man under the threat of

being shot?


Soldiers assumed firing positions with live ammunition

One eye closed, the other eye stuffed with targets

All routes were blocked with barbed wire.

One hundred and thirty thousand, in night clothes

Inside khaki lorries

One hundred and thirty thousand screams besieged

Deprived of food, water and latrines

How many children have wet themselves from fear now?

How many old women, their necks bowed forever?


The sirens and the walkie-talkies wailed

The backs of the lorries roared, like a volcanic pool.

Brass helmets tightened under their chins

One eye is closed, and the other stuffed with targets

Then not a blackboard, not a doll is saved in Dizza Castle.


What did the homes say to the dynamite?

What did the schools say to the heavy artillery?

What did the minaret say to the RPGs?

What did the seesaw say to the commander-in-chief of

military operations?


Why do the mountains not unleash their rocks and fight

Block the routes at least

What is doomsday waiting for?


The motorcade is in front of the long line of lorries

Leading the funeral cortege of Dizza Castle

Its end lost to sight.

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