Balqis’s Sorrows

Bushra Al-Bustani, translated from the Arabic by Wafaa Abdulaali

Mosul, February 2002

Dust in sobbing,
in silence, a forest of fire.
Caves of speech sleep
on a night’s arm;
the sea stretches out.
In flowers’ eyes, flowers droop.
On the hillside, a jinni is busy solidifying Solomon’s kingdom.

The scepter falls.
Your silence is a convoy
heralding death and poetry.
Death is poetry.
Poetry is death from which
waters spurt and flow,
poetry in which exiles turn
into jars of wine and
colonnades of smoke.
Blessed be the fire,
Blessed are those around it.

Moses, be patient! We are in hell.
You’ll throw your staff on stones
seduced by the fog of the message.
Enter, protected.
You’ll find the valley of the ants
still white, unhurt.

The blood of truth gushes through the valley like fountains.
At the sea’s window the birds
exhibit a slain child; at the
window of this age the evenings
weep in mourning.
Tears wash the hoopoe of this long
no news,
too long waiting,
no Sheba!
And the kings leisurely
burn villages and leave trails of havoc and death behind,
and leisurely they leave.
Balqis is anguished by wounds,
by hands lost in winds,
by a cave that sleeps laden with a legacy of stars,
with single bells that will
tear Babel apart.


Between two thrones, Balqis
vacillates, and two seas;
two hearts in her chest,
and a song.
When will the sea drown its grief
and soothe its sorrows?
Eastward the sea or
westward the longing,
the war is a sea,
a bullet,
greetings to those expelled to
the torture of diaspora,
a calf of black gold,
red gold,
bitter gold,
a calf that growls.

Torture is fated.
They have broken their tablets.
Wounds are destined.
Baghdad sinks in blood,
rises up to celestial caves.
Baghdad kills and resurrects.
Palestine is a gift,
a flower that churns the sea,
a permanent voyage.


Palestine . . .
a gift from the homeland’s wishes.
Bandage her wound,
swathe her fatigue in dust!

and take me, O Palestine . . .
it’s the sea that drapes the curtains over your almond eyes,
over a boy and over girls
who sow the wind’s seeds
under the rubble

The sea! As it merges with the sky
at the horizon’s far end,
wine is served.

In the serenity of my heart,
doves writhe;
two shores in turmoil.
In the serenity of my heart,
my lover has been selling my
to take the edge off the hunger of
The town’s river resists.
Every morning,
missiles hurl new death;
they seek me,
they lie in wait among my books,
they weigh down my wishes
and storm into my bedroom.


Missiles, alas!

In the serenity of my heart,
the waters retreat.
Wheatfields burn their crops,
the poem breaks its meters,
and the country’s borders blur.
Let your eyes’ tears trickle down into my healing wound.
Give the streams back their shade
and their jubilant secrets.
Take me to the sea, I will search
for my flower in the rushes,
and invite the bounty of your hands to rest on my shoulders.


In the name of the fates that
devour my melancholy,
I take refuge in your eyes.
Nothing betrayed me except that
elusive bed in the seas
whose lineaments drew me for a
Going to war is decided over wine
served at beachside resorts
in the name of peace.

Bushra Al-Bustani is an Iraqi poet. She has published nine collections of poems and two books of literary criticism. Currently, she is a professor Arabic literature and language at the University of Mosul, Nineveh.

Wafaa Abdulaali was a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard University in 2007–08 and a fellow at Harvard Divinity School in 2008–09. She currently teaches English poetry and translation at the University of Mosul, Iraq. Her translations include Contemporary Poetry From Iraq, by Bushra Al-Bustani, co-authored with Sanaa Dhahir (Mellon Press, 2008).

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