Poetry by Dunya Mikhail
translated by Elizabeth Winslow
When Part One of Dunya Mikhail’s Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea was published in Cairo, the newspaper Al-Ahram said: “In this remarkable and spellbinding text, one is reminded of ancient epics and mythology: of Gilgamesh’s quest to undo his tragic loss, of Sisyphus’s perseverance after being condemned to perpetually roll a boulder. The beautiful gush of words depicting a merciless and indifferent world reasserts almost existentially that to survive in an alienating universe there is no alternative but to (re)create incessantly.” Palestinian critic Khalid Ali Mustafa described it as “a spiritual document on the impact of war on Iraq.” After moving to the U.S. in 1996, Mikhail wrote a second part to her genre-blurring prose-poem — the first part ending in dream, the second opening in a suitcase packed with thirty years of the poet’s life as she flees her home. The two halves merge past and present, girl-child and woman-child, in a lyrical memoir that ebbs and flows between memories of her childhood, her father’s death, her Iraqi poet-peers and friends, and her job as a journalist for the Baghdad Observer. Vivid images of her migrations — between Baghdad, her ancestral village, Trebill, Petra, Amman, and the U.S. — are interwoven with moving family stories. War after war after war leads to the death of a fatherland that the poet transforms from war (harb) into sea (bahr) . . . and the moon Mikhail evokes is as brilliant as Lorca’s.