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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 Nina Subin.

Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq (Baghdad) and came to the United States thirty years later. She’s renowned for her subversive, innovative, and satirical poetry. After graduation from the University of Baghdad, she worked as a journalist and translator for the Baghdad Observer. Facing censorship and interrogation, she left Iraq, first to Jordan and then to America (Detroit). Her first book in English, The War Works Hard (translated by Elizabeth Winslow), was shortlisted for Griffin and named one of “Twenty-Five Books to Remember from 2005” by the New York Public Library. Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea won the Arab American Book Award. Her other books include The Iraqi Nights (translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid) and 15 Iraqi Poets (editor).

Her newest book The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq (co-translated with Max Weiss) is selected by Publishers Weekly as one of top ten in non-fiction for spring 2018, and as one of top 10 of the month by The Christian Science Monitor. Amazon editors also picked it as one of top 20 non-fiction books of the month.

Mikhail’s honors include the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Knights Foundation grant, the Kresge Fellowship, and the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. She is the co-founder of Michigan-community-based Mesopotamian Forum for Art and Culture. She currently works as a special lecturer of Arabic at Oakland University in Michigan.

Other poems by this author