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Writers in exile
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Selected Poems by Mizar Kemal

Mizar Kemal is an Iraqi poet and journalist. He is a guest writer in the Swedish city of Stockholm. These poems were translated in a workshop in the city of Umeå, north of Sweden, during the Literature Festival on 17 - 18 March. The workshop took place in collaboration between the Festival and International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), and the Swedish Authors’ Association.

The poems were read and performed on Friday evening after the workshop. The PEN/OPP magazine published the four poems in Swedish on the occasion of World Poetry Day and as a testimony against the calamities of war, which cast a shadow over the world today. The poem ‘My Mouth Turned into a Graveyard’ was freely interpreted with the poet’s approval. The poems are now translated into English by Hazem Shekho.

Credits Poems: Mizar Kemal Translation: Hazem Shekho Foto Muhanad Ismael May 29 2022

I, Who have Survived the War

I, who have survived the war,
am afraid of fireworks
and afraid of crowds
I’m afraid of the military uniforms in the clothing stores
and of the soldiers standing at the end of roads … I’m afraid
and of the roads
I’m afraid of windows when the sounds of planes sneak through them
afraid of ambulances and doctors
afraid of the Red Cross and the black banners on the walls,
I’m afraid of the walls too
I’m afraid of the tent and the Relief Organisations
and I’m afraid of the flag, the national anthem, and the news
I, who have survived the war,
am afraid of suitcases, passports, and airports
I, who have survived,
am afraid of leaving.

My Mouth Turned into a Graveyard

Before the war
I was very much
my mouth was a field of flowers
I ran in the streets
and called upon the children
every time I said a name
a flower bloomed in my mouth.
The war came
and I became a little
and my mouth turned into a graveyard
where I bury the names of my dead friends.
And so …
many of them have died
until my mouth turned into a big
a very big graveyard.

My Doomed Heart

The sky is silver this night and gloomy
it droops on top of the tall buildings
the buildings that stand, all the time, sullen and tall,
the buildings that look like my heart
my heart that looks like the tall buildings
which stand sullen and lonely
my gloomy silver heart
sick with nostalgia and lost songs
it bothers me now and hurts me
it’s heavy on my heart like a malignant tumour
and as cold as an ice cube
Oh, my gloomy silver heart
my heart, sick with nostalgia and lost songs
my heart, heavy like a malignant tumour
and as cold as an ice cube
My doomed heart.

To Unoka … The Lazy Flute Player

We, the lazy,

don’t think of tomorrow … and we don’t care much if it doesn’t come
quite unlike the others
we don’t pray to gods for the rain to fall and the yam fields to grow
we like the seasons of the sun and travelling
and the good company
we are poor, yes
but we are full of music and singing
and we drink wine lavishly
palm wine
and this was enough for the gods to hate us and for the believers to expel us from their assemblies,
like a flock of kites
we desert the huts and return to the forest
when drought defeats the caves’ gods
there, we sing to those who revert to their humanity
and we adorn ourselves with the clear blue.

We, the lazy,
we always fail to obtain a title and a family
and we’re very coward when it concerns wars
we inherited from our grandparents their high wisdom
and gave up what was left of axes and lances
we enter villages, playing music
we hold the flute and the ogene
we brighten up the tribes’ dreary nights by singing
until joy completes its circle
and the moonlit nights ensue.

We, the lazy,
when we depart from a poor village,
the elderlies grieve
and the children cry
but unlike the others
we don’t think of tomorrow
and don’t care if it doesn’t come.

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