“We Are Not Dead” by Kadhim Kaitan

 

To no avail the doves cooing—
Our delights are cellars
And our time is ash.
We go, every sunset, to the river
Carrying the coffins of our days’
Polishing our teardrops
And shrouding our fears.
We are not dead.
We still have the tearful embrace
Of sacrifice.
We compose our features,
Bandage our calendars,
Our disappointments,
And,
Under a spider’s tent,
We still have the right
To conquer the city with kisses.
We return to our hospitals
Lighting lamps of regret
And reciting our elegies.
Our lifetimes are paper boats
Pushed to the waves by the hand of a trifling child
Where, fold after fold,
The sea takes our dreams
And wraps them in weeping.
Our lifetimes are withered leaves
That launched an attack on the sun
And fell in flames.
The fire now licks at our names,
Sewn together with splinters.

Munthir Abdul-Hur
translated from the Arabic by Sadek Mohammed
(Taken from Poets Daily)

A beautiful poem .There are of course some awkward phrases but they do not detract from the poetic merit of the poem. Apparently the Iraqi poet is talking about the hopeless situation in his war-torn country where there is large scale bloodshed and mayhem.

Our delights are cellars
Our time is ash.

Sounds neat and epigrammatic. Just like

We are not dead
Here is an interesting image :
Our lifetimes are paper boats
Pushed to the waves by the hand of a trifling child
Where, fold after fold,
The sea takes our dreams
And wraps them in weeping.

A beautiful image . Our lifetimes are paper-boats/ pushed to the waves by the hand of a trifling child is an exquisite image. The sea takes our dreams and wraps them in weeping is lovely except that I have a quarrel with the word weeping which should perhaps be tears .Perhaps the translation did not work out properly. The image of the trifling child pushing the paper-boats of our lifetimes into the waves is of course a bit worn out but the fold after fold/the sea takes our dreams and wraps them in weeping is a pretty image. The last image our lifetimes are withered leaves /That launched an attack on the sun/And fell in flames is equally beautiful .One recalls Icarus whose waxen wings have melted in the sun or more closer home ,the figure of the monkey God Hanuman who as a child mistook the sun as a fruit and burnt his mouth red .Of course the contexts here are different .Here the poet is talking about the people’s resistance to a powerful invader’s might . Finally the poet says we are not dead. We are not dead yet .(may be )we shall rise again .