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from part one of Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea

By Dunya Mikhail

Through your eye
history enters
and punctured helmets pour out.

Frequent tremors occur in your land
as if invisible hands shake your trees day and night.

They blockaded you and banished the oxygen from your water,
leaving the hydrogen atoms to quarrel with one another.

Shouldn't the nations be disturbed by the face of a child
who shuts her mouth and eyes
in surrender to UN resolutions?
But they only opened their own mouths slightly,
smaller than a bud,
as if yawning or smiling.

We made room in our day for every star,
and our dead remained without graves.

We wrote the names of each flower on the walls
and we, the sheep, drew the grass
--our favorite meal--
and we stood with our arms open to the air
so we looked like trees.
All this to change the fences into gardens.
A naïve bee was tricked and smashed into a wall,
flying toward what it thought was a flower.
Shouldn't the bee be able to fly over the fence-tops?

Long lines are in front of us.
Standing, we count flasks of flour on our fingers
and divide the sun among the communicating vessels.

We sleep standing in line
and the experts think up plans for vertical tombs
because we will die standing.

Added: Monday, July 14, 2014  /  From "Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea" (New Directions, 2009). Used with permission.
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.

Other poems by this author