Translation of “Tablets” by Dunya Mikhail

Iraqi American poet Dunya Mikhail was born in Baghdad and earned a BA at the University of Baghdad. She worked as a translator and journalist for the Baghdad Observer before being placed on Saddam Hussein’s enemies list. She immigrated to the United States in the mid-1990s and earned an MA at Wayne State University. Mikhail is the author of several collections of poetry published in Arabic. Her first book published in English, The War Works Hard (2005), translated by Elizabeth Winslow, won the PEN Translation Award, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, and was selected as one of the 25 Best Books of 2005 by the New York Public Library. Elena Chiti translated The War Works Hard into Italian in 2011. Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (2009), co-translated with Elizabeth Winslow, won the Arab American Book Award.

With irony and subversive simplicity, Mikhail addresses themes of war, exile, and loss, using forms such as reportage, fable, and lyric. Though her poetry records the traumas of war and exile, she has also spoken to the effects of censorship on her work. In an interview with Cathy Linh Che for the New Directions blog, Mikhail observed, “In Iraq, there was a department of censorship with actual employees whose job was to watch ‘public morals’ and decide what you should read and write. Every writer needed approval first before publishing. That’s why I used a lot of metaphors and layers of meanings. This was probably good for my poetry but, still, you do not want to use such figures of speech just to hide meanings. Here, in America, a word does not usually cost a poet her life. However, speech is sometimes limited to what is acceptable according to public norms. So, in Iraq, text precedes censorship. In America, censorship precedes the text.”

Mikhail’s honors include the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. She lives in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and has taught at Michigan State University. – Poetry Foundation

Mga Tablet ni Dunya Mikhail

Idinikit niya ang tainga sa kabibi:
Gusto niyang marinig lahat
ng hindi niya sinabi sa kanya.
Isang pulgada
ang naghihiwalay sa kanilang katawan
kaharap ang isa’t isa
sa retrato:
Naka-kuwadrong ngiti
Na nakabaon sa durog na semento.
Sa tuwinang naghahagis ka ng bato
sa dagat
nakakarating ang munting alon sa akin.
Sadyang maliit ang aking puso:
kaya mabilis tuloy mapuno.
Hindi kailangan ng tubig ng gera
upang humalo sa tubig
at punan ang mga puwang.
Hindi nagtatanong ang puno kung bakit ‘di siya lumilipat
sa ibang kagubatan
o anumang walang katuturang tanong.
Nanonood siya ng TV
habang hawak niya naman ang nobela.
Sa pabalat ng nobela
may isang lalaking nanonood ng TV
at isang babaeng may hawak na nobela.
Sa unang araw
ng bagong taon
titingala tayong lahat
sa iisang araw.
Sinandal niya ang ulo sa kanyang dibdib.
Wala siyang imik:
wala na siyang buhay.
Ang taong tiningnan ako nang napakatagal,
at kanyang tingin na ginantihan ko rin nang napakatagal

Ang lalaking hindi ako yinakap,
ay hindi ko rin yinakap…
Sinira ng ulan ang kulay sa kanyang paligid
sa lumang lonang iyon.
Wala siya sa mga asawa
na-lost and found;
hindi siya dumating kasama ang mga bilanggo ng gera,
o kasama ng saranggolang tumangay sa kanya,
sa kanyang panaginip,
sa malayong lugar,
habang nakatayo siya sa harap ng camera
upang ang kanyang ngiti
ay maidikit sa kanyang pasaporte.
Nag-umpukan ang mga Dates
sa gilid ng kalye:
Kung paano
mo ako halikan.
Ang buhok ni Rapunzel
na gumagapang
Mula sa bintana
Tungo sa lupa
kung paano tayo maghintayan.
Ang aninong iniwan
ng mga bilanggo
sa pader
pinaligiran ang bantay
at tinapunan ng liwanag
ang kanyang kalungkutan.
Lupang sinilangan, hindi ako ang iyong ina,
Kaya bakit ka umiiyak sa aking kandungan nang ganito
lagi na lang
kapag may nananakit sa iyo?
Huwag mong intindihin ang ibong ito:
araw-araw namang napapadaan
at tumitigil sa dulo ng isang sanga
upang umawit ng isa o
dalawang oras.
‘Yun lang naman:
wala nang magpapasaya sa kanya.
Ang susi ng bahay
identity card,
isang kupas na larawan sa mga kalansay…
lahat ito ay nagkalat
sa isang mass grave.
Ang wika ng mga Arabo,
Mahilig sa mahahabang pangugusap
at sa mahahabang digmaan.
Hiyang sa mga walang katapusang awit
at mga malalim na gabi
at pagluha sa mga guho.
Nahumaling sa pagsisikap para
sa isang mahabang buhay
at mahabang kamatayan.
Malayo sa kanyang bahay —
yun na ang lahat na nagbago sa atin.
Naiwan ni Cinderella ang kanyang tsinelas sa Iraq
kasama na ang amoy ng cardamom
na umaalingasaw mula sa tsarera
at ang malaking bulaklak,
nakabuka ang bibig parang kamatayan.
Sa Instant Messages
sumiklab ang rebolusyon.
Sumiklab ang mga bagong buhay
naghihintay ng bansang maaring ma-download,
at lupang higit
pa sa isang kamao ng alikabok
kapag naharap sa mg salitang:
“Walang mga resulta na tumutugma sa iyong paghahanap.”
Ang galak ng aso
habang binabalik niya sa kanyang tao ang isang patpat
siya rin ang galak na mabuksan ang isang sulat.
Na marahang tumawid ng mga hangganan
tulad ng mga ulad.
Walang tumatangay sa atin,
pero habang naglalakbay
hatid natin ang ulan,
at ang punto,
at ang ala-ala
ng ibang pook
Anong kilig na lumitaw ako sa kanyang mata.
Hindi niya maintindihan ang kanyang sinasabi:
abala siyang nginunguya ang kanyang boses.
Tiningnan niya ang bibig na hindi niya mahahalikan,
at ang balikan na hindi niya maiiyakan,
at ang kamay na hindi niya mahahawakan,
at sa lupa kung saan ang kanilang mga anino’y
nagtagpo.

Tablets – Poem by Dunya Mikhail

She pressed her ear against the shell:
she wanted to hear everything
he never told her.
A single inch
separates their two bodies
facing one another
in the picture:
a framed smile
buried beneath the rubble.
Whenever you throw stones
into the sea
it sends ripples through me.
My heart’s quite small:
that’s why it fills so quickly.
Water needs no wars
to mix with water
and fill up spaces.
The tree doesn’t ask why it’s not moving
to some other forest
nor any other pointless questions.
He watches tv
while she holds a novel.
On the novel’s cover
there’s a man watching tv
and a woman holding a novel.
On the first morning
of the new year
all of us will look up
at the same sun.
She raised his head to her chest.
He did not respond:
he was dead.
The person who gazed at me for so long,
and whose gaze I returned for just as long . . .
That man who never once embraced me,
and whom I never once embraced  . . .
The rain wrecked the colors around him
on that old canvas.
He was not with the husbands
who were lost and then found;
he did not come with the prisoners of war,
nor with the kite that took her,
in her dream,
to some other place,
while she stood before the camera
to have her smile
glued into the passport.
Dates piled high
beside the road:
your way
of  kissing me.
Rapunzel’s hair
reaching down
from the window
to the earth
is how we wait.
The shadows
the prisoners left
on the wall
surrounded the jailer
and cast light
on his loneliness.
Homeland, I am not your mother,
so why do you weep in my lap like this
every time
something hurts you?
Never mind this bird:
it comes every day
and stops at the branch’s edge
to sing for an hour
or two.
That’s all it does:
nothing makes it happier.
House keys,
identity cards,
faded pictures among the bones . . .
All of these are scattered
in a single mass grave.
The Arabic language
loves long sentences
and long wars.
It loves never-ending songs
and late nights
and weeping over ruins.
It loves working
for a long life
and a long death.
Far away from home —
that’s all that changed in us.
Cinderella left her slipper in Iraq
along with the smell of cardamom
wafting from the teapot,
and that huge flower,
its mouth gaping like death.
Instant messages
ignite revolutions.
They spark new lives
waiting for a country to download,
a land that’s little more
than a handful of dust
when faced with these words:
“There are no results that match your search.”
The dog’s excitement
as she brings the stick to her owner
is the moment of opening the letter.
We cross borders lightly
like clouds.
Nothing carries us,
but as we move on
we carry rain,
and an accent,
and a memory
of another place.
How thrilling to appear in his eyes.
She can’t understand what he’s saying:
she’s too busy chewing his voice.
She looks at the mouth she’ll never kiss,
at the shoulder she’ll never cry on,
at the hand she’ll never hold,
and at the ground where their shadows meet.

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