Remembrance Day: poems about Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan


Mahmoud Darwish (born 1941, Palestine/Israel, died 2008, USA)

“I am from there”


I am from there and I have memories.

Like any other man I was born, I have a mother,

A house with several windows, friends and brothers.

I have a prison cell’s cold window, a wave

Snatched by seagulls, my own view, an extra blade

Of grass, a moon at word’s end, a life-supply

Of birds, and an olive tree that cannot die.

I walked and crossed the land before the cross

Of swords banqueted on what its body was.


I come from there, and I return the sky

To its mother when it cries for her, and cry

For a cloud on its return to recognize me.

I have learned all words befitting of blood’s court to break

The rule; I have learned all the words to take

The lexicon apart for one noun’s sake,

The compound I must make:


محمود درويش
انا من هناك
محمود درويش
أنا من هناك. ولي ذكرياتٌ . ولدت كما تولد الناس. لي والدة
وبيتٌ كثير النوافذِ. لي إخوةٌ. أصدقاء. وسجنٌ بنافذة باردهْ.
ولي موجةٌ خطَِفتها النوارس. لي مشهدي الخاص. لي عُشْبةٌ زائدهْ
ولي قمرٌ في أقاصي الكلام، ورزقُ الطيور، وزيتونةٌ خالدهْ
مررتُ على الأرض قبل مرور السيوف على جسدٍ حوّلوه إلى مائدهْ.
أنا من هناك. أعيد السماء إلى أمها حين تبكي السماء على أمها،
وأبكي لتعرفني غيمةٌ عائدهْ.
تعلّمتُ كل كلام يليقُ بمحكمة الدم كي أكسر القاعدهْ
تعلّمتُ كل الكلام، وفككته كي أركب مفردةً واحدهْ
هي: الوطنُ…
We are grateful to A. Z. Foreman for the above translation from Arabic into English. Visit his site:
.     .     .

Sami Mahdi

Poems from “War Diaries”

(translated from Arabic by Ferial J Ghazoul)


I (Feb.14th 1991)

From gazelles’ eyes the pupils dropped

When the bridge was bombed

Lovers’ rings shattered

And mothers were bewildered.


II (Feb.16th 1991)

With fire we perform our ablutions every morning

Collecting our remnants

And the debris of our houses

We purge our souls with the blood of our wounds.


III (Feb.24th 1991)

Plenty we have received

What shall we offer you, O land of patient destitutes?

Plenty we have received

So receive us

And pave with us the paths of wayfarers.




Sami Mahdi (born 1940, Iraq) wrote the above poems about the Gulf War (1990-1991) when he was living in Baghdad and working as editor of an Iraqi daily newspaper.


.     .     .


Dunya Mikhail (born 1965, Baghdad, Iraq, now living in the USA)

“The Prisoner”

(translated from Arabic by Salaam Yousif and Elizabeth Winslow)


She doesn’t understand

what it means to be “guilty”

She waits at the prison door

until she sees him

to tell him “Take care”

as she used to remind him

when he was going to school

when he was going to work

when he was going on vacation

She doesn’t understand

what they are uttering now

those who are behind the bar

with their uniforms

as they decided that

he should be put there

with strangers in gloomy days

It never came to her mind

when she was saying lullabies

upon his bed

during those faraway nights

that he would be put

in this cold place

without moons or windows

She doesn’t understand

The mother of the prisoner doesn’t understand

why should she leave him

just because “the visit has finished” !




“The War works hard”

(translated from Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow)


How magnificent the war is!

How eager

and efficient!

Early in the morning

it wakes up the sirens

and dispatches ambulances

to various places

swings corpses through the air

rolls stretchers to the wounded

summons rain

from the eyes of mothers

digs into the earth

dislodging many things

from under the ruins…

Some are lifeless and glistening

others are pale and still throbbing…

It produces the most questions

in the minds of children

entertains the gods

by shooting fireworks and missiles

into the sky

sows mines in the fields

and reaps punctures and blisters

urges families to emigrate

stands beside the clergymen

as they curse the devil

(poor devil, he remains

with one hand in the searing fire)…

The war continues working, day and night.

It inspires tyrants

to deliver long speeches

awards medals to generals

and themes to poets

it contributes to the industry

of artificial limbs

provides food for flies

adds pages to the history books

achieves equality

between killer and killed

teaches lovers to write letters

accustoms young women to waiting

fills the newspapers

with articles and pictures

builds new houses

for the orphans

invigorates the coffin makers

gives grave diggers

a pat on the back

and paints a smile on the leader’s face.

It works with unparalleled diligence!

Yet no one gives it

a word of praise.




Dunya Mikhail’s poem “The War works hard” has been described as being not about a specific war – although it could easily be about The Iraq War (2003-2011) – but rather “about War itself, seemingly a force as insistent and powerful as Life, in fact the very motor of human history.  The poet’s verbs (“works” “sows”, “reaps”, “teaches”, “paints”) work rhetorically to make war seem like any other worthwhile human activity.  Her (Mikhail’s) speaking voice  exhibits not the slightest trace of shock, but in doing so forces the reader into shock…”


.     .     .


Alex Cockers

The Brutal Game


I’m sitting here now

Trying to put pen to paper

Trying to write something

That you can relate to.


It’s hard to relate

To my personal circumstances

I’m out here in Afghanistan now

Taking my chances.


Read what you read

And say what you say

You won’t understand it

Until you’ve lived it day by day.


Poverty-stricken people

With mediaeval ways

Will take your life without a thought.


And now we’re all the same

Each playing our part in this brutal game.


.     .     .


Morals……two for a pound


I’ve been and seen

And feel slightly unclean

About the things I’ve done

Under a hot sun.


Away in a place

The British public don’t understand

A place where every day

Man kills fellow man.


Is it right to fight

In an unjust war?

Well I don’t have a choice

And peace is such a bore.


Being paid tuppence

To put my life on the line

Trying to pretend

That everything is fine.


.     .     .


Alex Cockers (born 1985, UK) was a Royal Marines Commando from 2005 to 2009.  He served in Helmand province, Afghanistan, for fourteen months.  He explains:

” I had many feelings and thoughts that I was unable to share with anyone…Under the stars in the desert, rhymes would manifest in my head.  I would write them down, construct them into poems and somehow I felt better for getting it off my chest. ”

.     .     .     .     .

Speak speak, that we may know the end of this travelling: Mahmoud Darwish محمود درويش

We are grateful to A. Z. Foreman for the following translation from Arabic into English.

Visit his site:




Mahmoud Darwish / محمود درويش


We travel like anyone else



We travel like anyone else, but do not return to anything

as if travelling

Were the way of the clouds. We buried our loved ones deep

in the shadow of the clouds and among the trunks of the trees.

We told our wives: give birth by us for centuries,

that we may complete this journey and see

A moment of a country, a meter of what can’t be.

In the carriages of the psalms we travel, in the tent of the prophets we sleep,

we come out of the words the gypsies speak.

We measure space with a hoopoe’s beak

or sing to while the distance away or wash the moonlight clear.

Long is your path, so dream of seven women to bear this long path on

Your shoulders. Shake the palmtree for each one

to know her name and which shall be

the mother of the boy from Galilee*.

Ours is a country of words. Speak, speak,

that I may lay my road on stone of stone to something.

Ours is a country of words. Speak speak

that we may know the end of this travelling.



* “the mother of the boy from Galilee”

refers to Mary, mother of Jesus

نسافر كالناس
محمود درويش
نُسافِرُ كَالنَّاسِ، لَكنَّنا لاَ نَعُودُ إلَى أي شيْءِ… كَأَنَّ السَّفَرْ
طريقُ الغُيُومِ، دَفَنَّا احِبَّتنا في ظِلاَل الغُيُوم وَبَيْنَ جُذُوع الشَّجَرْ
وقُلْنَا لِزوْجَاتِنَا: لِدْنَ مِنَّا مَئَات السَّنين لِنُكملَ هَذَا الرَّحِيلْ
إلى سَاعَةٍ مِنْ بِلادٍ وَمتْرٍ من المُسْتَحيلْ
نُسَافِرُ في عَرَبَات المَزَامير نَرْقُدُ في خَيمْةِ الأَنْبيَاءِ ونَخْرُجُ مِنْ كَلِمَاتِ الغَجَرْ
نَقيسُ الفَضَاء بِمِنْقَار هُدْهُدَةٍ أو نُغَنِّي لنُلْهي المَسَافَةَ عَنَّا وَنَغْسل ضوءَ القَمَرْ
طَويلٌ طَريِقُك فَاحْلُمْ بِسَبْع نسَاءٍ لتَحْمِل هَذَا الطَّريقَ الطَّوِيلْ
عَلَى كَتِفَيْكَ وَهُزَّ لَهُنَّ النَّخِيلَ لِتَعْرف أَسْمَاءَهُنَّ وَمِنْ أَيِّ أُمَّ سَيُولَدُ طِفْلُ الجليلْ
لَنَا بَلَدٌ من كَلاَمٍ تَكَلَّمْ تَكَلَّمْ لأُسْنِد دَرْبي عَلَى حَجَرٍ مِنْ حَجَرْ
لَنَا بَلَدٌ مِنْ كَلاَمٍ تَكَلِّمْ تَكلَّمْ لِنَعْرفَ حَدّاً لِهذَا السَّفَرْ!