Translated from the Arabic by Sinan Antoon from Athar al-Farasha (Beirut: Riyad El-Rayyes, 2008)
For Saadi Youssef
Iraq, Iraq is blood the sun cannot dry
The sun is God’s widow above Iraq
The murdered Iraqi says to those standing at the bridge:
Good Morning, I am still alive.
They say: You are still a dead man searching for his grave
in the corners of cooing
Iraq, Iraq … Iraq’s night is long
Dawn breaks only to the murdered
praying half a prayer and never finishing a greeting to anyone
For the Mongols are coming
from the gate of the Caliph’s palace
at the river’s shoulder
The river runs south and carries our dead who stay up,
carries them to the palm trees’ relatives.
Iraq, Iraq is cemeteries that are open, like schools,
Armenian, Turkmen, and Arab. We are all equal in eschatology
There must be a poet who wonders:
Baghdad; How many times will you disappoint myths?
How many times will you make statues for tomorrow?
How many times will you seek to marry the impossible?
Iraq, Iraq, here prophets stand
unable to utter the sky’s name
Who is killing whom in Iraq now?
Victims are shards on the roads and in words
Their names, like their bodies, are bits of disfigured letters
Here prophets stand together unable to utter
the sky’s name and the name of the murdered
Iraq, Iraq. So who are you in the presence of suicide?
I am not I in Iraq. Nor are you you
He is none but another
God has abandoned the perplexed, so who are we?
Who are we? We are nothing but a predicate in the poem:
Iraq’s night is long
stacked one on top of the other in the bed
of the truck that is barreling down the highway
beside me. It’s a mountain of little round
balls that radiate in the December sun
on this Florida morning. Christmas a week away.
I’m a nervous driver and this truck of fruit
makes me think of death and disaster
like the opening scene of a Final Destination movie.
The back latch falling open. Thousands of oranges
tumbling onto the roadway. Cars going everywhere.
Crashing. Splattering. Combusting. A river
of orange juice and blood flowing into the adjacent
streets. But it would be so beautiful: the sight
of all of those oranges rolling down each other
and out into the open space: free. At least free
until they come in contact with a tire. Mashing them
to pulp and skin. Flat. No longer radiant.
The radio says all troops will be home in a few days
after nine long years. How many oranges
have I eaten in nine years? Probably not as many
as I should have. Definitely not as many as now
lines the bed of this truck. When I Google “Iraq
+ oranges,” I find a series of articles using
the clichéd phrase “apples to oranges.” Most of these
are articles claiming the Iraq War was nothing
like the Vietnam War. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.
Which really aren’t that different. Both are fruits.
Both grow on trees. Both are the most popular
juices drank in America (I actually don’t know
if that’s true, but I’m guessing). Maybe that is the point.
Close, but not quite. Down the search page,
I find a graph documenting the yield of oranges
produced in Iraq between 1961 and 2009. No oranges
were grown until 1985. The biggest yield was in 2001.
The smallest in ‘09. I guess, things are getting worse
if you’re an orange grower in Iraq. Orange is a funny
word. Frank O’Hara wrote a poem about oranges
and sardines. Now there’s a pair. Quite different.
And Jeanette Winterson wrote a whole novel called
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which is a rather obvious
statement from a very smart lady. A search
on Amazon produces a list of books with “orange”
in the title. Not too many notable ones
and only one on Iraq. A memoir with “orange trees”
in the title. Florida is famous for oranges,
which is why seeing a truck full of them
is really not that odd, but seeing them fall,
rolling in the streets like little decapitated heads,
now that would be something special.
Let’s get this straight: Charles Graner
is not America. America would never
hold a knife to his wife’s throat, then say
when she woke that he was considering
killing her. And America’s wife in turn
would never call her husband “my own
Hannibal Lecter.” Am I right, or what?
Charles Graner may be Hannibal Lecter,
but he is not America. America is not that
kind of husband. Nor would America email
his adolescent children photos of himself
torturing naked Iraqi prisoners and say
“look what Daddy gets to do!” Am I right?
America is not that kind of father. America
would never torture naked Iraqi prisoners.
Let’s be absolutely clear about all of this.
And America’s ex-lover and co-defendant
would never whisper to the sketch artist
at America’s trial: “You forgot the horns.”
Charles Graner may or may not have horns,
but America is horn-free. America does not
torture prisoners. America may render them,
fully clothed, to Egypt or Syria, for further
interrogation, or to men like Charles Graner,
but America is not, ipso facto, Egypt or Syria,
and Charles Graner is not now nor has he ever
been America. And don’t talk to me about
Guantanamo. Please! Let’s get this straight.
You and I know who America is. We know
what America does and doesn’t do, because we
(not Charles Graner!) are America. Am I right?
Is this all clear? Tell me—am I right, or what?
9 Sri Lankans, 1 Afghan and 1 Iraqi have been on the roof of Villawood detention centre since yesterday afternoon. They are demanding to have their cases reviewed and want to be handed over to UNHCR rather than be deported back to their countries (which despite the lies of our government, are still unsafe). These men and the thousands of other asylum seekers Australia is keeping in detention (including children), just wanted to be treated with compassion. Their deadline for the government is 5pm this afternoon (September 21st) - or they have threatened to jump.
The men on the roof are self harming with razor blades. Two have already lost consciousness and none have eaten since yesterday afternoon.
How can Australia treat some of the world’s most vulnerable people in this way? How do our politicians sleep at night with blood on their hands? How do people who voted Labor or Liberal live with themselves - voting for policy that drove a Fijian man to suicide yesterday.
The system is in crisis and I fear that it is going to get worse. I feel sick, shame that I am a citizen of a country that treats asylum seekers so barbarically. I feel hopeless, so hopeless. The years of John Howard’s government and fighting and writing letters and screaming at protests and nothing has changed. Labor are infected with the same cowardice and sickness as the Liberal party.
Every day feels dark.
Strewn across the film are powerful reality bites — the story of veteran Iraqi actor Talib Al Furati narrating the experience of his son being hanged by the Saddam Hussein regime in the case of a mistaken identity; and of ordinary folks wondering aloud about the war: “Only the stupid will believe that war happens in a battlefield. The real battle is within us.” And: “Inside everyone is goodness but when we are destroyed, we get lost.”