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Four Poems by Mahmud Al-Braykan

[Portraiat of Mahmud al-Braykan. Image from al-Quds al-Arabi] [Portraiat of Mahmud al-Braykan. Image from al-Quds al-Arabi]

Four Poems

Mahmud al-Braykan 

Tr. Sinan Antoon


Behind the Glass

The sound is inaudible inside

But the scene is clear through the window

A man and a child

The man is tired and troubled

His hair almost gray

The child, less than ten,

stands, stone-faced

gazing at a fixed point

The man speaks gently and points fervently

drawing arches in the air

His whole body leans toward the child

again and again


The child doesn’t move

Barely says anything

When the man puts his hand on his shoulder

He is startled, his look terrified

The man speaks with hopelessness

Is it an admission of a mistake? Seeking forgiveness?

Elucidating a situation children don’t understand?

An attempt to convince is blocked by anger?

Extracting a secret?

The light is faint inside the room

But enough to highlight features

Through the cold glass the scene continues

A man is trying to reach his son’s heart

But he can’t


The Lions’ Dream

The lions are restless behind bars

Looking away when spectators look


They walk around

lie down in boredom

in their narrow cages


They dream of homelands

Vast prairies

Antelopes running away


Joyful cubs

playing with their own tales


When lumps of meat are thrown before them

The lions remember their lost pleasure

The pleasure of preying


Another City

There is another city

beyond the city with the hundred faces

There is another city

beyond the one where high buildings glisten

where squares turn and stores are packed

There is a city of ghosts and echoes

leafing through the memories of its dead men


There is another city

beyond the city of colors and shapes

of noise and motion

There is another city

watching the footsteps of the stranger

who is you


An Imaginary City

I entered it in one of my travels

A silent city

No trace of the living

Doors shut

The wind playing in its squares

But its window lights

Were on all night

Who switches them on?

I saw roses in the gardens

Their necks tilted

A children’s playground

In ruins

I knocked at doors

I called out

Have they all died?

Did they depart?

What magic spell turned them into invisible beings?

. . .

Suddenly I saw the shadow of a woman

on a marble platform

fidgeting slowly

trying to wake up

I said: “Eve,

do you know who I am?


But she didn’t understand the language


[Mahmud al-Braykan (Basra, Iraq, 1931-2002) was one of the pioneers of modern Iraqi poetry. Translated from the Arabic by Sinan Antoon] 

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