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By Dunya Mikhail

Our clay tablets are cracked

Scattered, like us, are the Sumerian letters

“Freedom” is inscribed this way:



This, then, is how the maps grew borders

The birds don’t know it yet

they leave their droppings wherever they want

their songs, like exiles, might pass by anywhere


There are no borders in Paradise

neither spoils nor victors

there are no victors at all

Paradise is Ama-ar-gi


There are no borders in Hell

neither losses nor demons

there are no demons at all

Hell is Ama-ar-gi


Ama-ar-gi might be a moon that follows us home

a shadow that stumbles on its true self

beads from a bracelet strung or broken together

a secret the tree keeps for centuries


Maybe it’s what crowds the prisoner’s heart

what shines around the pebbles in the embrace of the sun

what’s mixed with drops of water among the rocks

what seeps out from the dead into our dreams


Maybe it’s a flower borne to you

or thrown into the air

or hanging there alone

a flower that will live and die without us



that’s how we return to the mother

strangers from strangers

inhaling-exhaling from inhaling-exhaling


Thus, like all of you

we breathe Ama-ar-gi

and before we shed our first tears

we weep Ama-ar-gi


* Am-ar-gi: a Sumerian word that means “freedom” and “returning to the mother.”

Added: Thursday, January 19, 2017  /  Used with permission. Part of a special Poem of the Week collection on January 20, 2017 featuring six poems in conversation with the 2017 Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump.
Dunya Mikhail
Photo by: Michael Smith

Dunya Mikhail Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965 and was forced to flee in the wake of the first Gulf War when her writings attracted the attention of Saddam Hussein’s government. She is the author of The Iraqi Nights (New Directions, 2014); The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005), shortlisted for the Griffin Prize and named one of “Twenty-Five Books to Remember from 2005” by the New York Public Library; and Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, 2009) which won the 2010 Arab American Book Award. Her honors also include the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing (2001) and Kresge Artist Fellowship (2013).

Mikhail writes in Arabic, Aramaic, and English. Her work is translated into English by Elizabeth Winslow and Kareem James Abu-Zeid. Her poetry is translated into Italian by Elena Chiti. Mikhail currently lives in Michigan and works as an Arabic lecturer for Oakland University.

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