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On the Booksellers' Street of Baghdad
Written after the March 5, 2007 blast on the booksellers'
street named for Mutanabbi, the great Arab poet (915-65)

>>>Also in Persian

May 2, 2007

I saw Mutanabbi returning from Persia
He had heard the sound of Tigris, by the Kor River
Calling him back to Baghdad.
On his way, he had given his sword
To the Qarmati rebels in Gonaveh
Because he knew that from then on
He would have no friend but the pen.
He had told himself,
"I, Mutanabbi, poet, prophet and swordsman
Moved into the desert from Kufa
With the bedouins of Qarmati revolt 
Looking for the secret of brotherhood.
I went to Aleppo with Prince Sayf of Hamdan
To stand against the Frank crusaders
And traveled to Persia with King Azod of Daylaman
To spread the seed of Arabic poetry.
Now I want to return to Iraq
Only to look from the bridge of Baghdad
At the fishermen in their nutshell boats
Who are gently rowing on the Tigris River.
I want to see the gnostic Mandaeans in their white towels
Making ablution in the shallow waters
While looking at the North star,
And from the diners on Abu-Nuwas St.
I want to buy lentil soup and Mazgoof fish
Barbecued on pomegranate sticks.
How happy it is to walk around
Near the reeds by the river
And watch the kisses of a young couple
From behind a palm tree
How happy it is to sit by the old harpist
And listen to the story of the Tigris River
Rushing from Mountains to the Persian Gulf,
How happy it is going to the Turkish bath
Before muezzin calls to prayer
And surrender one's body to the caressing fingers,
Cotton washcloth and bubbling soap
And when taking dry towels
Ask the receptionist for a glass of ice water
Then in a happy mood
Going to the House of Wisdom
And seeing the dazzles of joy
In the eyes of the youth."
Mutanabbi told himself,
"I am becoming a child again
Enchanted with playing words".

Looking down from the bridge of Baghdad
Mutanabbi saw nothing but blood
Running constently in the Tigris River.
Fishermen were hunting the dead
Farmers planting human bones
Mothers giving birth to headless babies
Behind bushes and sand domes
The beheaded running in the shallow waters
And the water-sellers shouted in the alleys:
"Fresh blood! fresh blood!"
On the booksellers' Row, a red fog
Had covered the sky and the earth
Muhammad, the binder, was looking in the ruins
For the cut-off head of his brother
Father of Hussein, the hummus-pedlar,
Was talking to one of his son's shoes
Shatri, the book-seller, was shedding tears
Running behind the half-burnt leaves of poetry
In the alleys on the east-side of the Tigris River
He was humming one of Mutanabbi's couplets,
"Even the blind can see the letters
And the deaf hear the sound of my poetry."
Mutanabbi stood
His robe clung to his skin
And his headdress was wet with blood.
He asked himself,
"People or Books?
Books or people?"
Should he put down the pen
And take the sword again?
The Tigris did not answer
It was running fast
Like an arrow shot from a bow.

-- March 19, 2007 
>>>Above poem in Persian

Majid Naficy's books include Muddy Shoes; Father and Son and Modernism and Ideology in Persian Literature. He lives in Los Angeles.


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