Saturday, January 25, 2020

Plastic Death

Plastic Death

By Dunya Mikhail

Translated by Karem James Abu-Zaid
In my childhood
in Baghdad
we played dead:
we killed each other
with plastic weapons.
We lay on the floor,
still as corpses,
for a minute
or two.
Then one of us laughed,
exposing our plastic death,
we held each other
as the dying might life itself,
but rose to play another game.
The years turn over like lotto numbers,
and Baghdad recedes
with our childhoods into exile.
From afar, we see children
who look like we did.
They kill each other,
lie motionless
on the floor.
But none of them laugh
or hold life
and rise 

Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965. While working as a journalist, she faced increasing threats from the Iraqi authorities and fled first to Jordan, then to the United States. In 2001, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing and in 2013 a Kresge Artist Fellowship. Her first book of poems in English, The War Works Hard, was named one of the twenty-five books to remember by the New York Public Library in 2005. Her second collection, Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea, won the 2010 Arab American Book Award for poetry. She currently lives in Michigan and works as an Arabic instructor for Oakland University.

This is a powerful poem . With a subtle simplicity and disquieting humor reminiscent of Wislawa Szymborska and an unadorned lyricism wholly her own, Mikhail shifts between her childhood in Baghdad and her present life in Detroit, between Ground Zero and a mass grave. What was just a joke jolt as reality with the passage of time .The metaphoric shift from sportive to sanguinary, from plastic to  real death is brilliantly portrayed in this poem.

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