Fragments of a Memory

By Salam al-Asadi
Translated by Salih J. Altoma

1. The Clay's Memory

The night is a descending myth
a forest of black snow
a sky of mud spitting out its mute ashes over all homes
thus we appear as a blend of tears and dust
no distinction between our children's frightened eyes and the palmtrees' wounds
or between the silence of the schools' empty classrooms and the sad rumbling of the
Euphrates
no difference between the bitter gasp, the sigh of withering souls,
the trees' smoke, the planes' thunder,
or between the fragments of bodies buried in the mud
and the veils of drowned women floating on the river's surface like numbed shivering
black spots
the river that was stunned by the disaster
a storm that sweeps all things into a bottomless abyss
the howl of the planets, rubble, haggard faces, bewildered eyes, agitated palmtrees, and
the bowels of the dead, children's corpses, and sparrows trembling against closed
horizons.

2. Gunpowder

Dark gunpowder
What a stench that covers the streets with a cruel violent shock
we have nothing but weeping wings mummified by humiliation
And shame
This is the night: doomsday for distraught senses
Do we see, touch, smell, hear, taste, breathe other than sticky mud which closes in on us
Ushering in total ruination
Once more the games of the allied bombers begin
a thousand scenes of spectacular, sanctioned destruction
Piles of ruins
the fires of bombs are still nibbling leftover oil refineries
houses are scattered in a gloomy flash
the town's four bridges totally demolished
and the town split up into two cemeteries of ghosts, of survivors, of hush cries, and
dreary cold

 


Salam al-Asadi (1936 - 1994) was an eyewitness to the bombing, of his own city, Nasiriyya, in southern Iraq. He took part in the uprising following the end of the Gulf War and became a refugee first in Saudi Arabia and later in the US (California) where he died in a traffic accident in 1994. See al-Ightirab al-Adabi, London, no.28, 1994 pp.43-45.

Salih J. Altoma (translator) - Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Comparative Literatue, has been affiliated with Indiana University since 1964. He has served as director of Middle Eastern Studies (1986-1991) and chair of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures department (1985-1991). Altoma published a number of works in both Arabic and English on modern Arabic literature, and Arabic-American/Westem literary relations and edited recently the 2000 volume of The Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, volume 48(2000) which was dedicated to Arabic-Western Literary Relations.