A Wolf Howls: Memories of a Poet

This poem is inspired by Dia Azzawi’s painting, which is based on an unpublished poem by the poet Muzaffar al-Nawab, about a mother whose son was killed in the aftermath of the 1963 Iraqi Ba’ath coup.

Dia Azzawi, A Wolf Howls: Memories of a Poet, 1968, Oil on canvas, 84 x 104 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

 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