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Photo by Isabelle Lagny

 Salah Al Hamdani                                   Sonia Alland

Extracts from the collection of poems : By Salah Al Hamdani

Translated from the French by Sonia Alland

From BEYOND PAIN (Au large de Douleur) Translated from the French

Written between January 5, 1999 and January 4, 2000)




January 7


From my room, tonight

I grow a palm tree

in whose shelter I quench my thirst.

I draw a sun

that doesn’t warm me

and gather grains of sand

resembling my childhood tears.



I’ll follow men

without knowing their fate

and cry my life out to you

even from its ruins.



March 8



my dwelling is a refuge of stars

and of walls tattooed by my voice.

I came into the world gazing at a palm,

and above my table, I’ve invented a horizon

for executed comrades.



I write my life on an empty chess-board

I surround myself with strings of metal

a little wind and dead ink.


In my vast mirror,

I allow only those drowned by words

and the flight of birds announcing the deluge.



March 12


From the far reaches of my long night

distance erases our thoughts

and light thickens

on the face of things

like dust that envelops my farewells.


At the end of each day

I carry the Euphrates up to my room

and the punishment of exile spreads

like smoke from a battle

into the leeways of my quietude.



June 28


I’ve drawn a moon over my table

traced streams

sweated plowing your hills

decapitated time

erased words

heavier than tears.


And to see you

I’ve even misplaced in my flesh

a country, poor and desolate.



June 30


Now, all must disappear.

This miserable fourth floor,

my neighbor,

my memories, Baghdad

and even my body.


my body still wet with its illusions

I stand behind the curtains of my room

watching for the sunrise with a gesture, unexpected

a look, inarticulate, that turns back

calmly crossing the morning

to see how, over there,

the earth embraces

the assassinated.



July 3


One of your desires is without limit.

It sweeps away death and this ephemeral life

like my naked breath

on your skin.


Yet everything must be done over for men.

I’ve fashioned a city

surrounded by hills of sand and rain.

And on the asphalt in the deep of winter

I’ve made a mirage rise up.

For you, I’ve become

a roof

and for your body, a refuge.


Today there is no art

no poems,

only your leaving

and the beating of my heart.



August 26, Jeu Les Bois


The silence of expectation

that drawn-out ruse against chance

will carry me inevitably towards the end

to dig a hole over there in the wind.


Tell me,

who else but you will help me unravel

what remains of the days,

help deliver me from the barbed-wired dreams

where exile is born ?


With you

I wanted the river to accompany my steps,

the naked page to speak with my voice,

and the wind to sculpt your cry.


Sad wrinkles against those of the night

under the trampling of the seasons

and soon to suffer the cold

and the long winter

of this exile.



December 2



a wingless bird

perched on the dream

that follows me like a sudden shower

and returns from whence it came.


Today Baghdad is everywhere.

and in spite of the cold

it is tracking me.


Wherever I go,

it is on me,

in me.

At times it keeps me warm

and sleeps with me.

It is the source of my pain,

it is my pain.




From THE OPEN SKY OF BAGHDAD (Bagdad à ciel ouvert)

Translated from the French



Before returning (2003-2004)


No. 16

I never thought I’d ride the wind

reach  the hills

to survey the years

and understand how man

over there

cherished his wound.


I think of the condemned

those who inhabit the cemeteries

and of others who

lacking a tomb

cling to a poem.



No. 30

Don’t forget to shutter your loves

behind your days,

to fold the garden

to pull out the seasons

to plow the sky

to shoot at the moon

to upset the stars.


Then once back in the country

take everything

and forget me.


No. 39

Where are the other executed

the other dead

their objects buried with the gentle wind of dawn

with love letters

and the lamentation of far off memories?


My morning within arm’s reach

there I put my days overlaid with exile


And in this mirror where it rains in torrents

I ransack my body

and old age comes up

enwrapped in the silence of a sheet





Baghdad, desperately


To depart without leaving one’s self

simply to look at the blue of the sea

and absorb the flesh of the sky


To not flee one’s night

on an inert boat


To depart is not to look ahead

but to correct the wearing of time

to trim the seasons


To depart does not mean to chase the moonlight

but rather the dawn that bellows deep in man

For it’s here


The distance comes in little waves

and fixes itself like a wing on my morning


Then I go out

I walk

I get up

in the blinding light


And I sway

like a winter lost in its own mist


As in a Dark Dream (Comme dans un rêve sombre)


Like a dog in the distance

the night barks

Its voice traverses the marshes of childhood


I forgot my face

the echo of  dried up wells

the moon of my mother sacrificed to the war

as well as the burning of my tongue


Behind the deep crevices of the stone

I could see the skeleton of my father

his mouth awkwardly sculpted in the clay

like a wound in the winter

From SEASONS OF CLAY (Saisons d’argile)

Translated from the French


Embarked (Etre embarqué)


For Albert Camus


To write with the breath of one’s homeland

with the clay of the liberated palm

with your steps rooted in the charnel houses of the poor


To write about the wind

that gives birth to drowned men


To write about the shoulders of the river

and also about the voyage from nowhere

at the moment that limits the day


To write like a prisoner of the mirror


To write to calm the universe in the head of a beggar

to extract the soul of memories

to write for birds migrating

and their unbroken flight


To write to illuminate a forest of devastated pines

and enlarge a tyrant’s grave


Thus am I embarked on the body

of the tempest of men



Seasons of Clay


For my comrades who died for nothing


There, one sees the trace of overturned tombs


Here like elsewhere

one inveighs against the beautiful

one crucifies the individual in the clay of his dream

even the disorder of cowards has it charm


Here one sees nothing

but the desolation

of men without work

of swallows ever on the move

a fading sky

sweeping clouds

and far within me

those who flay the wrinkles of the river

the useless words

who erase the trace of the assassinated

tattooed on abandoned roads


In a dream I follow the steps of the one I love

I take a beacon by the waist

dance with the wind

unfold my wings into the infinite

and listen to the moans of the sequoias


My abode is a refuge

for men buried in sorrow


Today now that they’re gone

I spend my time looking upward

since a tasteless mourning disfigures the river

and because my memory takes root in absence


Then my sleeves rolled up

I run after the dawn

on the trace of the moon

my hands covered with ink

I spatter the face of solitude

charge, axe in hand

to destroy the frontier of cruelty



Exiled for Life (Exilé à vie)


What shall we do with those exiled for life?


Girl of the dawn

realm of my fullness

take back your voice

camouflaged under the details of reason


Come and disclose the language of the mirror

and the secret of your torment

of your restless words


Embark in me


From: JULY RAIN  (Pluie de juillet)

Translated from the French



Centered (Centré)


On your knees


on your knees in the day’s calm cruelty

and this endless absurdity

Walk, walk poor devil

into the extremity of the shadow

and rejoin your dreams

buried under their nights’ laughable slowness


Leave your memories in tow

the dazzle of a deserted quay

and beyond

borrow the curve of your exile

The glory of the setting sun is there

without echo

alone on a stranger’s bed

like a call from the highlands



Identity (Identité)


I’m neither from Baghdad nor a poet

nor am I the shadow of a fig tree

but a divergence

the hint of a breath on the city, perhaps

an uninterrupted conversation


Predator of chance

I observe nothingness, inexactitudes

I chase the enigma of the dream

my pain is composed of the ephemeral, the anecdotic

my days often dissolve in the quiet of the sunset

but I love you

and I learn quickly

as if in the dark



The Ambiance of a Port (Ambiance portuaire)


This morning

like the evocation of a voyage

a cello inhabits the space

a lame, far off sound covers me

and a chaotic voice fills my elsewhere

like a last letter addressed to the living


Must one repent

become a bit of ashes in the immensity of a tomb

an eroded cord for the tyrant

or must one, rather, see life unravel

like a dream given notice?


The sea, a tear engraved on the window-pane

memory laid low

stretched out in a shroud of light

Yes, I was born late, very late

like the shadow in a desert

my idols no longer exist

and my god is honest but a trouble maker

So I call for the uncertainty of narratives

and the whitening of bullets in the forehead of hate





Translated from the French



This Shower Comes From Another Cloud


The Drôme, May 21, 2011



In this vast night

unthinkable to retain the sea with one’s hands

dry the wound of the seasons

put the desert in one’s pocket

tattoo the dawn with cries

and invent another life

for these hobbling limping words


To see you again?

To vault over the shadows

like the moaning of weeping women in the memory of partisans




Must I bury myself in the mirror of solitude?

I am the witness of exile

of our ill-used dreams


What is on the outside

is inside me

I have no poems like the Medusa

that petrify

no poems to root out of my notebook


Exile is my homeland

not my dwelling

I’m the echo of the river

suspended over a feverish memory


To till your breath

I offer myself to the fiery shower that swallows the blue mountain

and recasts it into writing

then I revive the look of the last Bedouin.


Seasons of Incertitude


Issued from my river

high lands eroded by pockets of fertile dryness

men cover themselves with dust


Since then

I dig tirelessly

with my voice in the silent flesh of the light

To catch a cloud, by chance

in the actual

Break definitively with the ultimate solitude


All along the seasons of incertitude

seated at the summit of humanity

I shake the surface of a sleeping lake

Gaping scar


Lying on the flag of our fathers who died for nothing

I teach the child in me

to decipher waiting


I exist, no more than that

I don’t know the secret of torment

nor the kingdom in me of the father’s loneliness


From here I hail my wounded morning

like the indigent moon

a far-off country

I sift through the tricks of Tayhe the abandoned dog

I seal the imagination of crickets

and follow the horse that invades the sunset

I applaud the slowness of night birds

and the irreversible utopia

Then I dance like a weak star

behind the slaves’ enclosure


I care for the beak and the word

help the soul of the migrant

and the dawn of my return to Baghdad grinds

like the wings of a condor

praying in a gigantic tree




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