Let’s Girdle This Country with Petrol and Dynamite1
How do I fend for the grass I used to chew, in the blurry haze of summer
a taste of glue,
tang of spice,
How do I fend for a star that once fell onto our mosque’s minaret
so we hid ourselves from it at the bottom of the spiral staircase
and then hid with it
in the dry streams
in the path of dishdasha threads
in the palm leaves and dirt
until a boy came to house the star in his chest?
How do I fend for the body of my wife?
How do I fend for the balcony of the house
even if it is rented?
How do I fend for the secret of an arrow-pierced heart
between two names
carved on a tree trunk?
How do I fend for the mothers of soldiers against strangers?
How do I fend for the cell in my brain, the sudden destruction . . .
How do I fend for “the picture”?
How do I defend?
How to attack/attack
We cannot yet speak of the geometry of barricades
or the gates of Winter Palace.
We cannot yet speak of equality
even if it were inherited like rugs.
We cannot yet speak of Marcel Khalifeh, except in musical notation.
We cannot yet know of Muzzafar al-Nawwab, except for his cocktail recipes.
We cannot yet say that Katib Yacine’s name is Katib.
We cannot yet remember the Republic of Wajda.
We cannot yet name Margaret Thatcher a woman of the KKK.
We cannot yet say that the French slaughtered us
under the trees of Ghouta.
We cannot yet say that the Kurds are being killed like Native Americans.
We cannot yet say that Mussolini was Italian.
We cannot yet call to Marx: O you, the first hippie.
We cannot yet say that porcupines are thorny.
We cannot yet stand with Samih al-Qasim, except in the “preliminary” discussion.
We cannot yet put “alif” with “ba’”.
We cannot yet put “alif” with “mim.”
We cannot yet put the mother and father together in a safe bed.
We cannot yet put “a” with “a” like this:
We cannot yet put “m” with “m” like this:
We cannot yet put “m” with “n” like this:
who? who? who? who? who? who?
who? who? who? who? who? who?
We cannot yet write a eulogy for Iraq.
Therefore, the road to Eden
And the road to the cloud of pomegranate blossoms
And the road to my house in the palm
And the road which is still engulfed between Beirut and al-Sham
. . . . . .
. . . . . .
Is the road which I came to take
Must we scatter the poetry of our mothers
from Sinjar to Bani Saaf?
Must we uncover
the first immigrant’s grave and the tenth and the hundredth and the thousandth
for us to discover?
Must we marry Jaziyya to a Jew
so Abu Zayd will worry?
Must we eat snake flesh grilled?
Must we put our flesh under the bones?
Must we rip monotheism to shreds like fireworks?
Must we ask our Lord:
“Why have you created us this way?”
Must we sell our blood like we sold our pride?
Must we wait for the Knights of Khurasan alone?
If so . . .
is it necessary to girdle this country with petrol and dynamite?
O flower of flame, wonder not at the flame
your world has come to an end, stars have no place in it
O flower of flame, my people have extinguished their fires
with shame, merchants and revolutionaries become the same
O flower of flame, the sky must descend
like the stars at night, upon the house’s doorstep
O flower of flame . . . the village must ignite
its fires, and the masses march with torches
There’s no use.
Saadi Youssef has been writing for thirty years.
and despising the rulers.
He says: They kill the new poem . . .
But I ask you:
“Can you not find a more modern form than the mawwal?”
There’s no use.
We girdle this country with petrol and dynamite . . .
[Translated from the Arabic by Kevin Michael Smith]
 I thank Noha Radwan for her various clarifications and suggestions when translating this poem.
 A dishdasha is a traditional ankle-length robe worn in Iraq and many of the Arab Gulf countries.
 Ghouta is a collection of farms in Rif Dimashq, close to the eastern part of Damascus, Syria. Tragically, it was the site of both a French colonial massacre in the interwar period and the infamous recent chemical attacks by Syrian regime forces in 2013, killing hundreds.
 The first two letters of the Arabic alphabet, “alif” and “baa,” combine to make the Arabic word for father, aab. Similarly, “alif” with the Arabic letter “m,” meem, make mother, or um. Youssef here characteristically disassociates letters otherwise connected in Arabic script, producing unexpected meanings from seemingly random alphabetic juxtapositions, such as the “mother” and “father” in bed together in the next line, or the following, slightly annoyed inquisitive expression “mmmh?”
 The Arabic letters for “m” and “n” together make the interrogative pronoun “who?” (man?).
 In Arabic, al-Sham refers to the region of Greater Syria, which, following the cartographic redrawing of former Ottoman Empire territorial boundaries under British and French colonial rule in the early to mid 20th century, and the subsequent national “independence” of these territories after WWII, now includes the countries of Syria and Lebanon as well as parts of northern Jordan.
 Jabal Bisan is a mountain peak in the southwest of Syria, directly north of Amman, Jordan.
 Sinjar is a town in the Nineveh province of northwestern Iraq, with a majority Yazidi population, and neighboring Syrian Kurdistan. Bani Saaf is a coastal town in northwestern Algeria.
 A reference to al-sirah al-hilaliyya, or the al-Hilali epic, a long poem recited beginning in the 14th century.
 Reference unknown.
 The mawwal (pl., singular mawaliyya) is a classical Arabic poetic form stemming from the 6th century CE. In its earliest usage, it featured four monorhyme lines in the basit meter. It is one of the most commonly used and therefore traditionally entrenched of the classical poetic forms.