The Poets of Baghdad

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Posted by Middle Finger from ( on Friday, May 02, 2003 at 1:20AM :

The Poets of Baghdad
by Lisa Walsh Thomas April 29, 2003

"Were it my choice I would have died among you.
But, alas, that is beyond my reach.
Give me one last drink from the Tigris:
If I could, I would drink the whole river."

-- Syrian/Iraqi poet, Abul-'Ala' Al-Ma'arri
(11th century A.D.)

onto the heaps of bodies and books,
lie the spilled souls of a thousand poets,
broken over bridges, era to era,
city to city, meter by meter,
in search of a scribe,
an elegy for the unknown iambs and dactyls
of their brief lives,
poems unwritten, love ungrown.

Where there were white storks in the sky,
migrating northward,
there are eighteen-million-dollar Apaches now,
with thirty-second "kill" ability,
in the name of liberation.
In the face of such power,
a book of poems is small.
In the face of such flames,
a man's love of a woman is silent.
In the absence of love,
poetry eats itself in order to hide.

In this land of sand and oil and eternal conquest,
the white storks may not return.
Of them, Fox News says
B-52 bombers are "beautiful birds."
The rivers run again with blood,
as they always have,
and perhaps the white storks
will find the skies too black with smoke.
The poet Al-Nawwab says birds have homes
while he wanders, jail to jail,
and I the foreigner suspect
his jails are built on the bones of child poets.

I long to record this nation of poets,
would search for an unbroken bridge,
kneel and steal for myself the heart of a hero,
perhaps Al-Jawahiri,
dissident poet against the British,
whose brother died in his arms,
a man with whom I would share
sweet kahi and cardamom tea.
We would line the killers up on a chessboard -
the Mongols' Hulagu and Tamerlane,
Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent,
the British, Saddam,

What knew these crass madmen of poetry?
What knew they of art?
We would line them up
and throw their plastic figures
into the dead Tigris,
and then together we would roam the broken bridges,
scooping up the souls of children,
unborn poets
whose metaphors were blasted,
into a dark eternity.

Lisa Walsh Thomas has been a writer, poet and political activist since the
sixties. A collection of her essays and poetry is forthcoming from Pitchfork
Publishing at the end of May. Lisa can be reached at

-- Middle Finger
-- signature .

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