Salam al-Asadi

Translated by Salih J. Altoma

Fragments of a Memory
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.

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