Nahrain Al-Mousawi

Jumal Juma: Iraqi Memory in Three Poems

(View translation at Portals: a journal in comparative literature)

Born in Baghdad, Iraqi poet Jamal Juma lives and writes in Copenhagen and has done so ever since he immigrated in 1984. He has edited and published numerous manuscripts of erotica based on the original texts, including Al-Rawdh Al-Etir fi Nizhat Al-Khatir [The Perfumed Garden] (1990), Nazha Al-Lublub Fi Ma Yawjid Fi Kitab, [A Promenade of the Hearts] (1992), and Al-Nusus Al-Muhrima[The Forbidden Texts] (1994). Thereafter, Juma became a target of religious establishments in the Arab world, which has resulted in the ban of his books in some Arab countries. Juma’s collections of poetry include Kitab al-Kitab [Book of the Book] (1990), Musahifah fi Al-Thalam, [A Handshake in the Dark] (1995), and Yawmiyat al-Sa’ir fi Nawmuhu [Diary of the Sleepwalker] (1998). His work has been translated into Danish, English, Swedish, French, German, Persian, Turkish, and Tamil.

Part of Juma’s allure to Western publishers has been his experience of censorship in Arab countries. Despite the initial reactions to the erotic texts, The Perfumed Garden was able to gain a German publisher and A Promenade of the Hearts a Spanish one. But the censorship of his work points to a problematic translation enterprise: a text’s censorship in the Middle East often brings marketing appeal for publishers and for translators who recognize that marketing and producing a book as a consumer good becomes the main objective in publishing Arabic literary works in translation: Peter Ripken, from the German Society’s promotional department of African and Latin American literature, addresses the low rate of Arabic-book translations by claiming that when an Arabic book captures a Western publisher’s attention, it is usually a result of having been censored by Arab authorities or spotted by an enthusiastic translator, and, in return, Western publishers impose their own agendas of what Arab creative writing should be about, selectively translating books that meet the readers’ often prejudiced expectations of the orient (Whitaker). Western marketing objectives of Arabic literary texts should not, however, undermine a nuanced reading of Juma’s poetry and any potential for its translation. The selected poems are from poetry collections that have yet to be translated from the Arabic. Juma’s work, particularly his poetry in exile, is worldly in its scope of the effects of war in Iraq as he renders it through the lens of another war experience, Hiroshima, in a transnationally comparative and provocative perspective in his poem I Bombed Hiroshima (Moments with Miro). English translations of Arabic works, such as Fadwa Tuqan’s poetry and Hanan al-Shaykh’s novels, are often altered so as not to hinder the marketing objective, and domesticate the text to facilitate reading for the average foreign reader by omitting large portions and re-organizing the text into extensive footnotes or reinterpreting many passages for the sake offamiliarizing the text. Even with the low rate of translations from Arabic, Arabic texts have had to conform to dominant Western representational ideology regarding what is Arabic orIslamic: Translation critic Said Faiq claims that Arabic writers often conform to dominant Western representations of Arab culture and society anddominant Western ideological and moral and aesthetic valuesthroughout the writing process (10). Thus, this particular problematic marketing and translation representational enterprise for Arabic literature has led to Arabs writing in Arabic but for Arab translation (Faiq 9). Jenine Abboushi Dallal analyzes the issue of writing for translation from the broader concept of the influence of Orientalist conceptions of the Middle East on Arab writers in the sense that the reader prefers to turn to works that confirm prejudices of the Middle East:

Novels are chosen least often for their innovative techniques; when this is of interest, it must take forms recognizable in the West [. . . .] In most cases, interest lies in the content. Novels which are translated are often imagined to reconfirm accepted notions about [. . .] dominant subjects [. . .] [such as] Arab women. (8)

During the translation process of Juma’s poetry, I found the writing style did not read as though directed toward Western audiences and thus innately positioned to bridge the cultural encounter gap facing English translators and their publishers. Juma’s international position as a writer in Arabic with translations in various languages, not all European, and certainly not primarily English, does not lend itself easily to a forced binary of Western–influenced writing (through style and content) in Arabic (the original language) and English translation (the target language). At the same time that I did not want to domesticate the text by providing excessive footnotes and omitting large portions of verse, I also did not want to provide a translation that, in its excessive fidelity to the Arabic-writing style of the original and its partiality for the literal, reads awkwardly in English. For example, in I Bombed Hiroshima, Juma uses specifically Iraqi words to localize the poem rather than make it broadly Arabic or international even though his war poem from his experiences in Iraq is contextualized not only in another region—Hiroshima, Japan—but in another era, World War II. Because Juma’s work is most well known for its engagement with modernity rather than with the form and themes of the classical Arabic ode (known as the qasida), I chose to translate the poetry by using a less formal, non-classical style (i.e., using contractions, avoiding stiff verbs, and re-working the syntax so it is not stilted), and also for the emergent surrealism in the poems from Scandinavian Fragments. Sometimes the English translation undermines the original by its intentional faithfulness in style, but in the translation of Juma’s poems, I maintained this faithfulness without undercutting the elegance of Juma’s poetry, because I argue that this intention when it comes to the effect of Modern Standard Arabic is often misinformed: MSA is used as a unifying, official discourse, rather than as a high classical prose. In this sense, I assert that this understanding of the language as modern, formal, and unifying, as well as Juma’s poetic engagements with the effects of modernity (modern warfare, bombs, immigration) rather than an antiquated, high, classical prose would align this translation with Juma’s poetry stylistically.

أنا قصفت هيروشيما

بـمْ بـومْ
أنا قصفت هيروشيما
والمطر شجرة طويلة قلّمها
أمّي تطوّح بالدراهم
والزمّار يصيح: شوباشْ
أنا قصفت هيروشيما
والغجَر زخرفةٌ على بابنا
نقشتْها أصابعُ الطبّال
مسدسك طويل ياأبي
قال للسماء بمْ بمْ
إخواني بطول الشارع
وقططنا تعبر الحيطان.
خبزُنا عريض،
النجوم حلوى نثرناها على الطين
والغجّر خرزٌ ملوّن
ينفرط في زقاقنا ويلتمّ
تعال ياابن جارنا وألقطْ
أنا قصفتُ هيروشيما.

I Bombed Hiroshima

Boom Boom
I bombed Hiroshima.
The rain appeared like a tall tree pared down by

My mother tossed down a penny,
As the piper yelled, Go with courage,
Go with courage.

I bombed Hiroshima.
The engravings on our door were curses,
Etched by the drummer’s fingers.

Your gun is long, Father,
And it says to the sky,
Boom Boom.

My brothers were our street’s heroes,
Our cats hopped the fences,
And our bread was plenty.
The stars were beautiful
When we scattered them in the mud.

The curses were like colored beads,
Let loose in our alleys and then gathered
Come, neighbor’s son, collect them.
Go with courage,
Go with courage.

I bombed Hiroshima.

From Moments with Miro, forthcoming


الإشارات الأرضيّة
سألتُ الموسيقى :
أيّ الدروب تؤدّي الى الله ؟
فقالت : على سلالمي .

سألتُ الضوءَ :
أين أرى الظلام ؟
فقال : أطلْ تحديقَكَ بي
وستراه في قلبي .

سألتُ الظلامَ :
أين هو الضوء ؟
فقال : في قلبكَ .

سألتُ الأنهارَ :
من أين تنبعين ؟
.فقالت : من قلوب الأمّهات

سألتُ البحيرات :
لماذا لا تمشينَ ؟
قالت : لكي لا أسبق الزهورَ التي
تعيش على ضفافي .

سألت وطني :
لماذا أنت قاسٍ كأبي ؟
فقال : لكي أصنعُ منكَ رجلاً ،
.. تماماً كما كان أبي يقول

سألتُ الوردةََ :
هل تحبّين ؟
فسألتني : هل تضوعُ ؟

قلتُ للحربِ :
أنا أكرهكِ .
فقالت : وأنا أيضاً .

سالتُ خطّاً عربيّاً :
لماذا أنت جميل ؟
فقال : لأنني كوفيّ .

سألتُ الجنّةَ :
أين تقعينَ ؟
فقالت : عجباً ،
أوَ لم يوحِ اللهُ إنّي تحت أقدام أمّك ؟

سألتُ البحرَ :
لماذا يظنونك عظيماً وأنت محض ماء ؟
فقال : لأنّهم صغار ومحض تراب .

سألتُ النارَ :
لماذا ترتعشين ؟
فقالت : أنا بردانة .

سألتُ الغيومَ : الى أين ؟
فقالت : الى ظامئٍ نسقيه
وموقعٍ لا نباليه .

سألتُ الطيورَ المهاجرةَ : الى أين ؟
فقالت : واللهِ لا ندري .

Earthly Signs

I asked the music,
Which roads lead to God?
It said,
Over our scales.

I asked the light,
Where do I find darkness?
Keep looking at me,
And you’ll see it in my heart.

I asked the darkness,
Where’s light?
It said,
In your heart.

I asked the rivers,
Where’s your source?
They said,
A mother’s heart.

I asked the lakes,
Why don’t you run?
They said,
So we don’t leave behind the flowers
Living on our shores.

I asked my country,
Why are you mean like my father?
So I can make a man out of you‚
Just as my father used to say.

I asked the flower,
Do you fall in love?
It asked me,
Are you fragrant?

I told the war,
I hate you.
It said,
Me, too.

I asked the Arabic script,
Why are you so beautiful?
It said,
Because I’m Kufic.

I asked heaven,
Where are you?
It said,
How strange,
Hasn’t God revealed that I’m under the feet of mothers?

I asked the sea,
Why are you considered great when you’re merely water?
Because people are small and merely dust.

I asked the fire,
Why are you trembling?
It said,
I’m cold.

I asked the clouds,
Where to?
They said,
To quench a thirst,
The place doesn’t matter.

I asked the migrating birds,
Where to?
They said,
God knows.

From Scandinavian Fragments


الفصوص الإسكندنافية

لو كنتُ شمساً لأشرقتُ
وإنْ لم تكن هناك
زهرة عبّاد شمسٍ واحدة.

قالت النجومُ :
إنّنا أزهارُ الله
رائحتُنا الضوءُ.

قالت غيومٌ هائمةٌ :
نحن أرواحُ الميتين من العطش.

قال حجرُ الماس :
أنا الهواءُ جَمَد .

قال اللُجَينُ :
أنا الضوءُ مطروقٌ .

قال الذهبُ :
أنا لهبٌ مسكوك .

قال اللؤلؤ :
أنا كلمات القمر
لا يفهمها سوى المحار .

قال المرجانُ :
أنا أحلام الشعراء قبل أن يولدوا
وأرواحهم بعد أن يموتوا.

قال العقيقُ :
أنا الياقوتُ حين يغضب.

قال الأصفر :
أنا أحمرٌ ميّتٌ .

قالت الدموع :
أنا دماءٌ بيضاء .

قالت الشموعُ : نحن أزهارٌ حارّة .
وقالت الورودُ : نحن شموعٌ باردة.

قال العرشُ :
أنا عظامُ شعبٍ .

قال الصولجانُ :
أنا ذراعُ طفلةٍ .

قالت جوهرةُ التاجِ :
أنا عينُ شهيدٍ .

وقال القفصُ :
أنا قلبُ جَلاّد .

قالت أشواكُ الوردة :
نحنُ سيوفُ الجَمال .

قالت جوهرةُ التاجِ :
أنا عينُ شهيدٍ .

وقال القفصُ :
أنا قلبُ جَلاّد .

قالت أشواكُ الوردة :
نحنُ سيوفُ الجَمال .

قالت الفَراشات :
نحنُ ازهارٌ طائرةٌ .

قال جسدُ حبيبتي :
أنا ضوءٌ مسبوك .

قال الهلالُ : أنا ابتسامةُ الليل .
وقالت النجومُ : ونحن دموعه.

قال الليلُ :
أنا نهارُ الأعمى .

قال العطرُ :
أنا موسيقى تُشمّ .

قال اللونُ :
أنا موسيقى مرئيّة .

وقالت الموسيقى :
أنا عطورٌ مسموعةٌ .

قال الناي :
أنا وُضوءُ الروحِ في مياه الندم.

قال السيتار :
أنا تضرّعات الطبيعة الى الله
فاضمم أصابعك بأوتاري.

قالت الدمعةُ أيضاً :
أنا كلمةٌ خرساء .

قالت حفرة القبر :
أنا ضحكة الميّت الأخيرة .

قال الأحمرُ :
أنا أبيضٌ مذبوحٌ .

قال الندى :
نحن الينابيع عالقةً في الغصون
ونحن براعمُ المطر .

وقال المطرُ :
أنا ماءٌ .. طائرٌ .

قال البرقُ :
أنا إصبعُ الله إذا غضب.

قال السؤال :
أنا أوّل المعرفةِ
وتخوم المتاهة.

وقال الختامُ :
أنا بدءُ الحيرةِ
وأوّل السؤال.

قال الوطنٌ :
أنا موطئ كعبكَ ، حيثما حللتَ
وغبارُ نعليكَ وفضاءُ قامتكَ ،
يا مهاجر …

لو كنتُ يداً
لتسللتُ حين ينامُ القلبُ
ووقفتُ على الطرقات
أصافحُ الجميعَ
وهم يضحكون منّي .

لو كنتُ إلهاً
لقتلني الضجر .

قالت المرأةُ : أنا ريحانة.
وقالت الريحانةُ : ليتني امرأة.

قال لها :
إنّما أنتِ شقوقٌ وخُرَم
وأنا أسرّب مياهي عبركِ .

وقال أيضاً :
النساءُ خيولٌ
من كواحلها تُعرف .

قال الهواءُ : أنا زجاجٌ حرّ .
وقال الزجاجُ : أنا الهواءُ عبداً.

وقال الماءُ : أنا بين بي
لا أنا بالزجاج عبد
ولا بالهواء حرّ ..

قال البحرُ :
أنا سماءُ الأسماكِ
والغيومُ أمواجي المحلّقة .

قالت القطرةُ :
أنا معنى الماء …
والبحر تفاصيلي

Scandinavian Fragments

If I was the sun,
I wouldn’t rise
Were there not
A single sunflower.

Stars said,
We’re God’s flowers.
Our scent is the light.

Disoriented clouds said,
We’re souls of those dead from thirst.

Diamond stone said,
I’m frozen air.

Silver said,
I’m well-worn light.

Gold said,
I’m a gilt flame.

Pearls said,
We’re the moon’s words
That only the oysters understand.

Coral said,
I’m the poets’ dreams before birth
And their souls after death.

Agate said,
I’m angry ruby.

Yellow said,
I’m a dead red.

Tears said,
I’m pale blood.

Candles said,
We’re hot flowers.

Flowers said,
We’re cold candles.

Throne said,
I’m the bones of the young.

Scepter said,
I’m a child’s arm.

Crown’s gem said,
I’m a martyr’s eye.

Cage said,
I’m the tormentor’s heart.

Rose’s thorns said,
We’re beauty’s swords.
Butterflies said,
We’re flying flowers.

My beloved’s body said,
I’m molten light.

Crescent moon said,
I’m the night’s smile.
And stars said,
We’re its tears.

Night said,
I’m day for the blind.

Scent said,
I’m fragrant music.

Color said,
I’m visible music.

And music said,
I’m audible scent.

Flute said,
I’m the soul’s purity in waters of remorse.

Sitar said,
I’m entreaties sent to God,
So I gather your fingers around my strings.

Tear said,
I’m a mute word.

Dug grave said,
I’m the dead’s last laugh.

Red said,
I’m a butchered white.

Dew said,
We’re the branches’ wells
And the rain’s blossoms.

And rain said,
I’m flying water.

Lightning said,
I’m wrathful God’s pointed finger.

Question said,
I’m the first of many realizations
And a riddle’s edge.

End said,
I’m the beginning of confusion
And the first of many questions.

Nation said,
Wherever you go,
I’m the foothold for the heel of your feet,
The dust on your soles,
Frontier for the space of your body,
Dear immigrant.

If I were a hand,
I’d slip away while the heart slept,
Stand on the road,
And shake hands with everyone,
Even as they laughed at me.

If I were a god,
I’d die of boredom.

Woman said,
I’m a basil plant.
Basil said,
How I wish I were a woman.

He said,
You’re a crevasse,
And I drip water through you.

He also said,
Women are horses.
You can tell from their ankles.

Air said,
I’m free ice.
Ice said,
I’m slave water.

Water said,
I’m somewhere in between.
I’m neither slave in ice
Or free in air.

Sea said,
I’m the fish’s sky
And the clouds are my waves in flight.

Drop said,
I’m the meaning of water
And the sea is my every detail.

From Scandinavian Fragments

Works Cited

Abu-Nuwas. Al-Nusus Al-Muhrima [The Forbidden Texts]. Ed. Jamal Juma. Beirut:
Riyadh Al-Rays L’il-Kutub wa Al-Nishr, 1994.

Al-Nafzawi, Muhammad ibn Muhammad. Al-Rawdh Al-Etir fi Nizhat Al-Khatir
[Perfumed Garden]. Ed. Jamal Juma. Beirut: Riyadh Al-Rays L’il-Kutub wa
Al-Nishr, 1990.

Al-Tifashi, Ahmad. Nazha Al-Lublub Fi Ma Yawjid Fi Kitab [A Promenade of the Hearts].
Ed. Jamal Juma. Beirut: Riyadh Al-Rays L’il-Kutub wa Al-Nishr, 1992.

Dallal, Jenine Abboushi. The Perils of Occidentalism: How Arab Writers Are Driven to
Write for Western Readers.
Times Literary Supplement (24 April 1998): 8–9.

Faiq, Said. Cultural Encounters in Translation from Arabic. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual
Matters, 2004.

Juma, Jamal. A Handshake in the Dark. Iraqi Poetry Today. Ed. Saadi Simawe.
Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2003.

–––. Al-Fusus Al-Iskandifiya [Scandinavian Fragments]. My Translation. Budapest:
Manshurat Sahara, 1992.

–––. Awqat Ma Miro [Moments with Miro]. My Translation. [Forthcoming.]

–––. Book of the Book. iUniverse, 2005.

–––. Diary of a Sleepwalker. [Forthcoming.]

–––. Kitab al-Kitab. Copenhagen: Dar Samilrayn, 1990.

–––. Musahifah fi Al-Thalam. Beirut: Mu’assasaa al-Intisharal-Araby, 1995.

–––. Yawmiyat al-Sa’ir fi Nawmuhu. Beirut: Mu’assasaa al-Intishar al-Araby, 2009.

Whitaker, Brian. Language Barrier. The Guardian. 23 Sept. 2004.


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