The Game

November 15, 2007 at 3:19 pm 3 comments

Dunya Mikhail


He is a poor pawn.
He always jumps to the next square.
He doesn’t turn left or right
and doesn’t look back.
He is moved by a foolish queen
who cuts across the board
lengthwise and diagonally.
She doesn’t tire of carrying the medals
and cursing the bishops.
She is a poor queen
moved by a reckless king
who counts the squares every day
and claims that they are diminishing.
He arranges the knights and rooks
and dreams of a stubborn opponent.
He is a poor king
moved by an experienced player
who rubs his head
and loses his time in an endless game.
He is a poor player
moved by an empty life
without black or white.
It is a poor life
moved by a bewildered god
who once tried to play with clay.
He is a poor god.
He doesn’t know how
to escape
from his dilemma.

[translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow]

Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail’s recent collection The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005) is a fascinating book, bursting with strong, direct poems about living in a war zone. Today’s poem is one of my personal favorites from that book, vaguely reminiscent of Amichai’s The Diameter of the Bomb, but with the additional idea of a heirarchical chess game, of the way we are all pawns in someone else’s hands, and that final ‘the-buck-stops-here’ ending. A poem at once poignant and playful, that captures the feeling of helplessness one feels when faced by history.

Entry filed under: Arabic, Dunya Mikhail, Elizabeth Winslow, English, Falstaff.

Agamemnon (lines 1348-1372) My November Guest

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Poetess Rita Odeh  |  September 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    cloudy morning-
    a kite flies higher
    than its string

  • 2. Poetess Rita Odeh  |  September 10, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    “The Countess Of Sadness”

    as she observes
    the wren’s jointly dance
    with a white charming cloud,
    the Iris folds
    her new- born petals
    withdrawing a dream
    heaped with wheat ;
    drifting behind tears
    which kept sprinkling
    her leaves
    till the stars
    grew dim…

    the shadow of two in dance
    grows transparent
    so the sparrow of yearning
    loses countless feathers.

    bored spiders
    start weaving webs
    on the remnants
    of a lost dream,
    while, the Countess
    of sadness
    rides the cloud less beaming
    heading towards rivers,
    fields and white pure
    flakes of snow.

    the rainbow
    of the far
    gloomy horizon
    is restored.

  • 3. Poetess Rita Odeh  |  September 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    “Descending the Cross”

    A tiny butterfly
    in a spider’s web,
    fighting for the right
    to enjoy the scents of joy,
    seeds of soy,

    to descend the cross
    to make her unique floss
    to grow, not to bow,
    to run after the rainbow,

    to reject the fate of siege,
    the wailing of Troy


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