Saadi yousif

Translated by
Khaled Mattawa

                    God save America
                    My home sweet home!

Saadi yousifThe French general who raised his tricolour
over Nugrat al-Salman where I was a prisoner thirty years ago . . .
in the middle of that U-turn
that split the back of the Iraqi army,
the general who loved St Emilion wines
called Nugrat al-Salman a fort . . .
Of the surface of the earth, generals know only two dimensions:
Whatever rises is a fort
whatever spreads is a battlefield.
How ignorant the general was!
But Liberation was better versed in topography.
The Iraqi boy who conquered her front page
sat carbonised behind a steering wheel
on the Kuwait–Safwan highway
while television cameras
(the booty of the defeated and their identity)
were safe in the truck like a storefront
on Rivoli Street.
The neutron bomb is highly intelligent,
it distinguishes between
an “I” and an “Identity”.

                    God save America
                    My home sweet home!

                    How long must I walk to Sacramento
                    How long will I walk to reach my home
                    How long will I walk to reach my girl
                    How long must I walk to Sacramento
                    For two days, no boat has sailed this stream 
                    two days, two days, two days
                    Honey, how can I ride?
                    I know this stream
                    but, O but, O but, for two days
                    no boat has sailed this stream

                    La L La La L La
                    La L La La L La
                    A stranger gets scared
                    Don’t fear dear horse
                    Don’t fear the wolves of the wild
                    Don’t fear for the land is my land
                    La L La La L La
                    La L La La L La
                    A stranger gets scared

                    God save America
                    My home sweet home!

I  too love jeans and jazz and Treasure Island
and John Silver’s parrot and the terraces of New Orleans
I love Mark Twain and the Mississippi steamboats and Abraham Lincoln’s dogs
I love the fields of wheat and corn and the smell of Virginia tobacco.
But I am not American.  Is that enough for the Phantom pilot to turn me back to the Stone Age!
I need neither oil, nor America herself, neither the elephant nor the donkey.
Leave me, pilot, leave my house roofed with palm fronds and this wooden bridge.
I need neither your Golden Gate nor your skyscrapers.
I need the village not New York.
Why did you come to me from your Nevada desert, soldier armed to the teeth?
Why did you come all the way to distant Basra where fish used to swim by our doorsteps.
Pigs do not forage here.  I only have these water buffaloes lazily chewing on water lilies.
Leave me alone soldier.
Leave me my floating cane hut and my fishing spear.
Leave me my migrating birds and the green plumes.
Take your roaring iron birds and your Tomahawk missiles.  I am not your foe. 
I am the one who wades up to the knees in rice paddies.
Leave me to my curse.
I do not need your day of doom.

                    God save America
                    My home sweet home!

let us exchange your gifts.
Take your smuggled cigarettes
and give us potatoes.
Take James Bond’s golden pistol
and give us Marilyn Monroe’s giggle.
Take the heroin syringe under the tree
and give us vaccines.
Take your blueprints for model penitentiaries
and give us village homes.
Take the books of your missionaries
and give us paper for poems to defame you. 
Take what you do not have
and give us what we have.
Take the stripes of your flag
and give us the stars.

Take the Afghani Mujahideen’s beard
and give us Walt Whitman’s beard filled with butterflies.
Take Saddam Hussain
and give us Abraham Lincoln
or give us no one.

Now as I look across the balcony
across the summer sky, the summery summer
Damascus spins, dizzied among television aerials
then it sinks, deeply, in the stories of the forts
                    and towers
                    and the arabesques of ivory
 and sinks, deeply, from cornerstones of faith
then disappears from the balcony.

And now
I remember trees:
the date palm of our mosque in Basra, at the end of Basra
the bird’s beak
and a child’s secret
a summer feast.
I remember the date palm.
I touch it.  I become it, when it falls black without fronds
when a dam fell hewn by lightning.
And I remember the mighty mulberry
when it rumbled, butchered with an axe . . .
to fill the stream with leaves
and birds
and angels
and green blood.
I remember when pomegranate blossoms covered the sidewalks,
the students were leading the workers’ parade . . .

The trees die
not standing
the trees die.

                    God save America
                    My home sweet home!

We are not hostages, America
and your soldiers are not God’s soldiers . . .
We are the poor ones, ours is the earth of the drowned gods
the gods of bulls
the gods of fires
the gods of sorrows that intertwine clay and blood in a song . . .
We are the poor, ours is the god of the poor
who emerges out of the farmers’ ribs
and bright
and raises heads up  high . . .
America, we are the dead
Let your soldiers come
Whoever kills a man, let him resurrect him
We are the drowned ones, dear lady

We are the drowned
Let the water come

Damascus, 20 August 1995

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