Nine Poems by Salah Al Hamdani

Translated from the French by Sonia Alland


My Poem

This poem is not a true poem
it is a refuge for the wounded approaches of evening
for conquered partisans
a bed for rivers that are doomed
an open space for deer that contemplate the waterfall
for the men behind the walls’ saltpeter
and those trees weighed down in the album of memory.


My Part of The Sky

Over there in the corner of a wound
with the cold years of solitude
the country is set like a lily on a tomb

when I begin the poem
it is a sky that gives onto a desolate field

I emerge
at the hour when the body and thought dry up
I breathe in what remains of their sap
I bless the summit of the instant
and I condemn the god
that cheats with the truth.


A Wound for Growing Up

No. 2

My country has not moved on from its nightmare
My father did not survive poverty
The others, clutching their saintly book
have not returned from their wars
and no one over there made tombs flower
with water from the river

Parked within our walls
unwanted strangers here
become our conscience

Thus my instants
have lost the nuances of mystery
but. without stop, they attend the funeral
of the voices of the past.


To Grow up with Illusions


In the twisting streets
we hid desire
we buried the wounded sun
and dust had a taste of hail

One demolished morning
I found a blue cricket
I entrusted it to other mutilated children

From place to place
on my shoulders
like an illiterate newspaper seller
from now on I tote straw-packed seasons
and the laughter of toothless children.


I’m a little soldier without a country
astride the horizon
My life, a prey to emptiness, capsizes

To take off from the surface of the tongue
to cry over the far off country
that has disappeared with the dawn, intense and mute

From the seeds for the future
only cries
remain in my hands
and the secret of the sad river
buried under the rust of time


Everyone dances
and makes fun of the stoned bird

When the horizon becomes unrecognizable to the dove
the stubborn rhythm of loss
erases the dryness of the afternoon
and soothes my solitude

My words stumble on the face of the river
The Bedouin shudders facing the Euphrates
And its uprooted people
wander in the head of an abandoned dog
that goes mad in me

Then I think of you
while the dusk pierces my heart
and the evening fades.



I see myself over there like a wind that falls back upon itself
a hurricane that swallows the sins of men
and the palm trees that offer their shade to the horizon

Here, I string the beads of exile thinking of the stolen homeland
I count its dead
while they return to what is sacred
while their bodies cling to the void
and the light unfastens from the sky like a dead skin

I rage against their desert
and scorn the paradise of fiction purveyors
I rebel
I poison myself
and I search for solitude, near my sad mother.



to Selim Abdullah, exiled Iraqi painter and sculptor

We are recognizable
by the insomnia of our wounds
by the thirst of the palm
by time suspended
on the marshland of illusion

Our wings of regret are open
with their laments flung towards the distant homeland

For we possess an obstinate dawn
a pale dawn trailing a sky riddled with echoes
and we inhabit the body of a sacrificed soldier

We look for a city that is sleeping in a mirror
like the impatience for a shared beloved

Let us say adieu
to those Fascists who sully our mornings
to the prisoners deprived of tenderness
to the old mothers who seed their descendants
in cemeteries.
to the day of my birth for whom I’ve pardoned no one
to the window in this interminable hallway
so that it no longer extends throughout my nights

Adieu to the mare in pursuit of a silver moon
sailing on a postcard
to the homeland abraded by barbed wire
to the moans of our comrades
before their assassination

Adieu as well
to ideologies
to marbles of childhood
to the arteries of anger in a mute mouth
to the lightness of sparrows
to the torturer hung on the screen
and to the hail already lost in the eyes of our beloveds

And finally salutations to this Mesopotamia lost in us
imagined in your hands of clay
and to the Euphrates always fertile in our soul.


There is no Watchman in the Sky

There is no watchman in the sky
No hope in the valley
nor silence in the shadows

No bodies of sirens for my boat in the war
nor snow to soften my hell

No wind to spread the bird’s wings
nor whistling on the platform of ennui

No future

There will be no citadel to welcome the downpour
No sun medallion for this peninsula
nor a call for the man who has lost his way

No horizon in tow
no nest for the sea-gull on the roof of my dreams

There will be no trembling soul on the last road
nor rain to wash away the other’s cruelty.


The Man of the Abyss

You cling to the foam of great dreams
you salute the stone that breathes
and you covet the immensity of my call

In the shadow’s labyrinth
the cry stretches between the mirror and the outside
then it sinks into the wound’s secrets

Like the death of the dove
you fall into an abyss
deeper than memory
on this absent land
where only your face moves from place to place
in the chaos

We must cry under the weight of these verses
under the ashes of our destinies
under the inheritance of our injured words
supplications for the dying river

What is it to shed tears in war?
What is exile?
A boat anchored in your writings.



Destiny pierces my heart
the palm trees of childhood howl on the page
and in spite of the frost
I’m on fire this evening.



Salah Al Hamdani is a French-Iraqi poet, writer, actor, and director born in Baghdad, who has authored approximately 50 works in Arabic or French. While a political prisoner because of his opposition to Saddam Hussein, he began to write poems. Nourished by the work of Albert Camus, he chose France as a land of exile and published his first book of poems in Paris in 1979: Gorges Bédouines (Bedouin Throats). He also continued as an activist against the dictator, wars, and terrorism. As an actor and director, he has played in films and in the theater, notably in the role of Enkidou in Gilgamesh (Théâtre National de Chaillot) and Walid in Kofor Shama, with the troop El Hakawatti of the Palestinian Theater of Jerusalem. His poetry has been translated into several languages.


Sonia Alland translates from the French and the Catalan. She has translated works by the French writer Marie Bronsard: The Hermitage (Northwestern University, 2001) and The Legend (Seagull Books, 2013), as well as two volumes of poetry by Salah Al Hamdani: Baghdad, Mon Amour (Curbstone Press, 2008) and Baghdad, Adieu (Seagull Books, 2018). Translations from the Catalan include Portbou: a Catalan Memoir by Maria Mercè Roca (Pinyon Publishing 2020) and works by the Catalan poets Narcis Comadira and Feliu Fermosa. These translations appeared in the special Catalan issue of Metamorphoses in 2024. She has also translated the works of poet Salvador Espriu, in collaboration with Richard Jeffrey Newman. Their most recent translations appeared in February 2024 in Red Wheelbarrow, and other translations will be published by Osiris in the summer of 2024.


Translation with permission of author.

Photo Salah Al Hamdani by Isabelle Lagny | Photo Sonia Alland by Denis Medvedsek.


Published on June 17, 2024.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email