Black Iraqi Woman
Written by Faleeha Hassan
Translated from the Arabic by William Hutchins
Shortly before my father died, he whispered to me longingly: “Daughter, treasure this, because it authenticates your heritage to our kinsfolk!” When I accepted this object, I discovered it was a stone with inscriptions I did not understand and delicate, mysterious lines. He continued, “It is a keepsake from our great-great grandfather and can ultimately be traced back to Bilal, the Holy Prophet’s first muezzin, and his father, who was the king of Ethiopia.” I accepted this small heirloom, which I carried everywhere with me in my handbag. The person who shared my life under the title of “husband,” however, threw it down the drain at our house, thinking–as he told me–that it was a fetish. From then till now I have endured successive exiles. So I wrote this poem to explain the secret of my skin color–given that I am a native of al-Najaf, Iraq–spiritually, mournfully, and poetically!
My father said: “You were born quite unexpectedly,
Remote from Aksum, like a beauty spot for al-Najaf-’the Virgin’s Cheek.’
Your one obsession has been writing, but
The sea will run dry before you arrive at the meaning of meaning.”
He affirmed: “During a pressing famine,
I devoted myself to watching over every breath you took.
I would thrust my hand through the film of hope
To caress your spirit with bread.
You would burp, and
I would delightedly endure my hunger and fall asleep.
I could only find the strength to fib to your face and say I was happy.
I would feel devastated when you fidgeted,
Because you would always head toward me,
And I felt helpless.”
Aksum! They say you’re far away!
“No, it’s closer to you than your exile.”
“Don’t talk about ‘now’ while we’re living it.”
“The future depresses me. How can I proceed?”
How can the ear be deaf to the wailing from the streets?
Aksum, you have colored my skin. Al-Najaf has freshened my spirit.
She knows and does the opposite.
She knows that I inter only dirt above me, and
That I deny everything except spelling out words:
M: Mother, who went walking down the alley of no return.
F: Father, who hastened after her.
B: Brother, who never earned that title.
S: Sister who buttoned her breast to a loving tear, no matter how fake.
………………….There’s no one I care about!
The trees tremble some times, and we don’t ask why.
My life surrounds me the way prison walls surround suspects;
I am the victim of a building erected by a frightened man.
With its talons time scratches its tales on me,
And I transform them into a silent song
Or, occasionally, a psalm of sobs.
Father, do you believe that–the roots have been torn asunder?
Fantasies began to carry me from al-Najaf to Afyon
And from Afyon to nonexistence,
Yellow teeth stretching all the way.
“History’s not anything you’ve made,”
One American neighbor tells another.
He’s surprised to see me.
“Who are you?” he asks when he doesn’t believe his eyes.
Would he understand the truth of my origin if I told him I was born in al-Najaf
Or that Aksum has veiled my face?
I have walked and walked and walked.
I’m exhausted, Father.
Is your child mine?
Show yourself and return me to the purity of your loins.
Allow me to occupy the seventh vertebra of fantasy!
Don’t eject me into a time I don’t fit.
I need you.
I ask you:
Has my Lord forbidden me to be happy?
Am I forbidden to preserve
What I have left
And sit some warm evening
Averting my ear from a voice that doesn’t interest me?
Answer me, Father!
Or change the face of our garden
So it changes….to what they believe!