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.
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
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
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.