Project Description

Ghareeb Iskander


Ghareeb Iskander (born in Baghdad 1966) is an Iraqi poet & writer living in London since 2002. He published the following books: Sawad Basiq (High Darkness), collection of poems, 2001, Beirut, (in Arabic); Semiotic Trends in the Critique of Arabic Poetry, 2002 Cairo, 2009 Baghdad (in Arabic); Mahafat Alwahm (A Chariot of Illusion), collection of poems, 2009, Beirut, (in Arabic); A Chariot of Illusion, selection of poems translated into English, 2009, Writer Exiled Ink – London and Af’a Gilgamesh (Gilgamesh’s Snake), collection of poems, 2012, Beirut. He also translated many poems from Arabic into English and from English into Arabic.

Three Poems by Ghareeb Iskander

On isolation

The vocabulary of illusion
which I learnt
has abandoned me

I am alone
save for these remnants
blinding by their light even the true likeness of reptiles;
and insisting always that language
escaping from their pockets
is an absolute

If only I could cultivate solitude
if my soul could cling by its fingertips
to my unfinished phrases
if I could have another fantasy
become a stutterer
say: my final farewell was about you
not for you

There is such a great difference
between my intention
and the emptiness of the wounded nights

What can surpass the fluency of the body
when saying: no to death
let this forgetfulness be eternal

Yet the gardens of my night and their flowers
and your darkness – in the hour after midnight
when all the sorrow of melancholy returns –
and my life too
was breaking apart
as the last seed watered by your hands
took shoot

So you emerged again
a Princess of tragedy

A chariot of illusion

It does not matter
that my defeat before you
was caused by the rose
we abandoned there to fade
so long ago

you blushing
as we reached the end of the game of illusion
we had created on the cold rooftops

I was close to biting one of your tender fingers
that night
when the sky poured its wrath upon us

It does not matter
if others too may speak of despair
for you were and always will be
the single shining falsehood
of memory eased by forgetfulness

So we think of you
as you turn aside from passion

Damn you
you cut down anger with tenderness
as if it were a spreading fig tree

That last night before our separation
you whispered:

“They depart
I don’t know why
the flowers of longing fade
I don’t know why
the falling tears sigh
I don’t know why”

Your eclipse was gentle
like your hands
pointing to the wasteland of the night
and the descending gloom

In that box of ashes
entitled family history
I try to subdue my soul
with the dew from which you drink of happiness
whilst you make good their endless lies:

“The wars we lost were absolutely sacred
the men returning after a long night
to nameless tombstones”

Our glorious life
shone like stars before you
as you adorned yourself before the mirror
the witness
who gave to life its false history

So come then
oh woman
clouds and thunder of my life
as I try to subdue my body also
with the perfume you exude

I know the coming nights will meet at your centre
and in your glow
the ugliness of the world will dissolve
as you pass across the bridge of ancient memory
untouched by pain

you are mistress
of the conscience of the world.

Translated from Arabic by Fathieh Saudi & Sally Thompson

On Borges

Like Borges
I will gather my poems
from the claws of ancient writing

And like him
I will foretell catastrophe
told in the cawing of his titles:
the Book of sand 1
or the book of the soul
the rose of the sand
or the rose of the soul

There is no difference

Across his pages
floated our bloody history
his heart full of the portent of loss

For he foretold the tragedy!

Like him
I too see what cannot be seen
like him

I see my end

And I name our days a promenade
and our history

our entire history
a night of ashes.

A book by Borges