This poem is inspired by Dia Azzawi’s painting, which is based on an unpublished poem by the poet Muzaffar al-Nawab, about a mother whose son was killed in the aftermath of the 1963 Iraqi Ba’ath coup.
a wolf howls a mouth buzzes with flies pink swollen foot and neck all twisted-like hands grasping the air of Baghdad’s godless night this body rigid with longing rigid with death your body uncoiling from the pattern of living reaching back to lost futures stumbling behind itself loss never final enough not to be enacted again lost as I am lost lost as you the stomach lost in the Tigris your bowels in the mouth of the dog the memories that were not yours and then were the copulating dead or so it seemed so it was described so I saw memories not mine and now are a wolf I never heard howl the wolf that woke me this morning the wolf vacantly witnessing what I chose not And from the gap in my memory where the sun blinded me, you were killed. And in the fissure in your mind where the bullet was born, a dog whimpered and scratched at his fleas. My son, I turned my back from you and night’s oil seeped in so suddenly, spilled into my eyes, blinding me again with its cloying odor. Good, I think; your beauty was unbearable, even to me. this poem is not for me to hear not for me to read Al Nawab’s exiled voice stretched thin on the tape of a lost cassette lost as me lost as he all the poems you will not read the poets who will die without having written a word poetry that must crouch in the dark suffocate before being heard fugitive poems poems that grind like sleeping teeth smell unwashed poems of dying of undying the languages we will spend our lives pretending to comprehend the words we will empty from mouth to mouth the words that collect like soil under our tongues until we are at last made to spit them on the ground or choke or maybe have them kicked from our jaws I am not the poet I am a poet but if I’m to be honest these days are too hot to write poetry soon they will be too cold I am weary with meaning motherhood has eaten at me I regret it entirely but I am not a mother or maybe I was it doesn’t seem to matter loss precedes the hood of it no matter what My son. You stepped so lightly through this world of sorrows. Your gait was nearly obscene.