"Eid Before the Occupation," "Eid After the Occupation," "Soccer Before the Occupation," "Soccer After the Occupation," "Death Before the Occupation," and "Death After the Occupation"
by Amal al-Jubouri
Translation and introduction by Rebecca Gayle Howell and Husam Qaisi
A native of Iraq, Amal al-Jubouri published her first book of poetry, Wine from Wounds, at just 19 years old—a debut that excited the attention of some of the Arab world’s greatest poets and literary critics including Adonis, Abdul-Wahab Al Bayati, and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra.
After her university studies and a brief career as a journalist, al-Jubouri took political asylum with her daughter in Munich, Germany in 1997; in 2000, when the Ba’ath Party published a register of the regime’s enemies, al-Jubouri’s name appeared first among the blacklisted writers. But the poet’s exile would prove the catalyst that would make her a major force for literary activism between the Middle East and the West. She would go on to publish five collections in Arabic and countless translations, as well as found the cross-cultural literary magazine Diwan; the international press al-Masar; and the East West Diwan Cultural Foundation. In 2003 al-Jubouri returned to Baghdad two days after the Ba’ath Party fell from power. It was during this time that she wrote her fifth collection, Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation (al Saqi, 2008).
The Hagar of this collection is she who was bonded to the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim). In the Islamic version of her desert exile, Hagar runs between two mountains, Safa and Marwa, praying to God for water. Amal adapts this story to write her homeland’s elegy, using Hagar as her mask while creating a form to which the title of the collection alludes. For most of the book, the poems are arranged in contrasting pairs: “Eid Before the Occupation,” “Eid After the Occupation.” “Soccer Before.” “Soccer After.” etc. By way of the metaphor, the poet herself runs between the two most recent eras of American involvement in Iraq; as Hagar prays for water, al-Jubouri prays for peace.
Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation will be published in the fall of 2011 with Alice James Books; it will be her first collection translated into English.
EID BEFORE THE OCCUPATION
How we came together
in the hymns of Umm Kulthum
singing Tonight— the feast that brings peace to all the world
No diaspora No holocaust
for our homelands
EID AFTER THE OCCUPATION
We drag happiness to our dark homes
We lie to our children— Let’s go to the City of Toys
But if we said the City of Ghosts
would it make a difference?
Trusting us, they wake from dreams
about what gifts the streets will bring
And though we shout, they all run out to hug
what they think will be bliss
They go, and our calls catch nothing but their absence
Our hands sort nothing but our own lies
and the unreachable Eid
Eid ul-Fitr: A Muslim celebration and feast commemorating the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Umm Kulthum: An Egyptian singer and songwriter; one of the Arab world’s most popular singers of the 20th century. The City of Toys: (idiomatic), amusement parks.
SOCCER BEFORE THE OCCUPATION
We were scared to cheer
but terrified we might lose
Moaed al-Badry, silenced
The daring of Raed Hmoudy, gone
How would we celebrate?
Even our thrill was controlled
Only the President’s sons were cheering:
brother sponsors of our game, our rage
SOCCER AFTER THE OCCUPATION
jails them inside their own slogans
and free kicks our divisions
we cheer and cheer and cheer
Moaed al-Badry: a famous announcer in Iraqi sports. Raed Hmoudy: a famous goalkeeper in Iraqi soccer.
Shi’itistan / Sunnistan: referring to the media rumor that then-Senator Joe Biden advocated in 2007 for a partitioned Iraq. If he had done so, he would have been calling for Iraq to split into three separate nations, primarily Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurdish. In fact, he called for a federal Iraq that would include empowered regional governments.
DEATH BEFORE THE OCCUPATION
—A competition to see who could cry more
who could make the most food for those who grieved
All that moaning, it shot holes into Heaven’s grace
while we ate from the banquet, insatiable and smiling
And what would deliver us from sin?
The day of our death that fast embrace
DEATH AFTER THE OCCUPATION
—A red mask over the mouth
of a city infected with Sectarian Flu
The only dictators in the country:
death and Nikah Misyar,
an hour’s contract
taking all life contracts, all other loves
Nikah Misyar: a temporary, fixed-period marriage that is legal for Shi’ites and allows men who are traveling to enjoy sexual pleasure. It requires no further financial commitment to the woman or to any potential children after the marriage ends.