The great Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab died fifty years ago today, but not before changing poetry. Here is my translation of the last poem he is said to have written shortly before his death:
One Crutch in Hell
I am still turning
Around the mill of my pain
Like a blindfolded bull, like the millstone—never resisting.
People pass by, on their way toward heights.
But I can no longer walk on my feet, damn them.
My bed is my prison, my coffin, my exile into pain
And I say: A day will come to me, months from now,
Or after years of wasting away,
And I will go. On my two feet I will go,
A crutch in my right hand.
One crutch? No—two
Beneath my arms, supporting
A body of aches, a body dying
An abandoned encampment, a ruin, covered by a flood of blood.
I go on, on my two feet I go on.
Even if the road leads to the grave,
And gloom, and hungry, thousand-mouthed worms
Stretch out before me to the furthest reaches of the world, in a river,
Or pitch-dark valley, or high mountain,
I will go there, either gladly, or riding on my own back
I will travel along the inferno of my path and push the black doors wide open
And I will roar in the face of the caretaker,
Why was the door shut?
Let the devils of Hell
Punish the obscene body
Let them punish the open wound
Let your eagles gouge eyes and devour the heart
Here, in this place, my neighbor does not wish me ill,
And the prostitute who passes by my house at midnight does not sing out,
“Here is the cripple’s house! They ran out of food and drink
And tomorrow they are going to throw his two daughters and wife out onto the street,
And his infant son too if they cannot pay the mountains of rent they owe!”
Throw me, scattered, uncomposed
Do not shut your door against my misery,
Open it, and feed my body to the fire!
For more Sayyab, visit the tributes over on Jadaliyya.