Zaineb Alani: War Poems

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Zaineb Alani was born in North Africa, to Iraqi diplomats, and grew up in China, and later East Africa, Tanzania. She returned with her family to her native Iraq to experience firsthand the impact of two successive wars: the war of attrition with Iran, which lasted eight years, and the first six-week Gulf War, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In 1994, she moved to Jordan to teach at Jordan University. She accepted a Fulbright scholarship in 1996 to complete a graduate degree in Education at Ohio State University. Zaineb published a poetry anthology in 2007 by the title, "The Words of An Iraqi War Survivor & More". She currently resides in Columbus, Ohio, where she works as an instructional designer and consultant for local companies. Zaineb's family were forced to pull her mother out of Baghdad a week before the 2003 Gulf War. She has forty extended family members who still live in Iraq. Zaineb is an antiwar activist and keeps blogs at: &



War Poems


You drain the words out of my famished mouth
when you scream,
a sun-drenched cry of dripping dates and palm-green nostalgia.
You, a thought in the womb before birth,
And all the lines of crimson of afterlife,
a bosom of Tigress-scented compassion,
thrown across a desert of aimless caravans.
You, a wan wanderer, in the pages of my history...
Did you know that,
your rains washed away my name,
minutes after baptism,
tattooed tomorrow's memories for eternity...?
But then you turned your face east...
away from me...
Do you recognize me? ...
I am the homeless child that seeks your amputated arms for refuge,
a beggar of identity amidst your grains of blood-drenched sands.
Why have you lost me
when I had hung on to the trains of your abbai,
through all the wars,
all the sores...?
Left my minarets of war-torn memories to crumble into oblivion...
my faith in humankind disemboweled.
You are the truth
-if it ever existed,
belief, when it is all I know.
I know you now
like I know God.
For you are the entity they forbade,
the remnants of the game they played,
the devastated I...

For my beloved Iraq...


The People Of My Land Today

They speak strange words
these people that come from my land
they grow legs and horns for sanguine stories
that sit on chairs
then rot as they unravel and run...
They trace images in the air
that only God 
can read
they bite their native tongues
as they utter 
these new words
like 'them' and 'us'
These people from my land
have released their grasp of their roots
The seas of enstrangement
have filled the hallows of their
sinking hearts
they dream different dreams
dominions where nightmares
touch the grounds
as they enter
with feet
that scream
to stamp a smoother end out.


Eye for Eye

(For Emily Henochowicz) 

Sniped in the eye

before my vision

could savor the next ‘thirsty pixel’.

Blue skies

now charcoal

now crimson

and then no more…

Clouds pushing hard

for a way out of my socket…

Blue tears

streams and rivers

and then this drought

carves its bed in my face.

Know they, that I can spell

more names for color

than they ever tasted in their

mothers’ wombs?

Know they, that Yahweh

designed different dawns

for minds like mine?

Know they, that I am the same blood

that pulled that trigger…

And saw they, with their eyes

that can still see,

the horizons of their expiring aspirations


If an eye was the cost,

my cause is not lost.

I did not fall.

Their humanity did. 
My poem to Emily Henochowicz, a Jewish art student who lost her eye to an IDF sniper when protesting the Gaza flotilla incident.


She brings parts of 
that part 
of the world 
She brings sun
in Turkish coffee cups
She brings news of freshly-brewed war
on the TV channel that 
doesn't play here

the story of the 
made-in-Abu Ghraib
that no one could identify
at the neighbor's garden gate

She brings smiles 
from better times

She brings hope
that people over there
can continue to live
and carry on
to the next war...

I, the terrorist...

I, the terrorist,
watched the bread break off my brother’s bleeding teeth
He had never tasted blood-flavored bread...

I, the terrorist held my breath,
as the bricks from my kitchen ceiling
hit my forehead…

Yet, I could still stand…

I, the terrorist,
took the rut-filled road to get water
for my suckling infant.

I lost a few fingers
on the way,
to a precision sniper…

I, the terrorist,
dug-up some dirt water
with what was left of my stubs,
and tried
to nurse my wailing one,
as he lay in the arms
of the still-warm
body of his departed mother…

I, the terrorist, hated
that my newborn had to taste
blood-stained water;
I hated that
he now had no milk
the scarlet stuff slowly bubbling on his lips…

Then, I the terrorist,
that he,
like his mother,
like my brother,
and every other terrorist
who had sat for a meal
at that fractured kitchen table
had now
stopped feeding too…

Note: Inspired by a survivor of the Gaza massacre, sitting in what remained of
of his home with what looked like a fingerless bleeding hand...

All I want…

All I want from my country which was pushed out of a train window
are my father’s last smile
and the torn pages of his unfinished book…

All I want from my country which was gang-raped back in a Baghdad alley
are the remnants of my mother’s shredded scarf…All I want…All I want from my country which was slaughtered in the global public square
are my sister’s last words before her tongue was strangled

All I want from my country which was dragged by her hair down a bloodied Tigris bank
are the stolen cradle of my Mesopotamian heritage
and the swaddle of a mutilated infancy that crawled into oblivion...

But I am not allowed to want…

So I cannot want…

I cannot want.

This Torn Map

Pinned to my heart…
this torn map and bleeding
nostalgia drips at my severed valves

Lashes yearning for the blind white to cover
all the crimson
It grips the pit of pain where my stomach is
And nausea now has no name

It comes in flashes of red around Baghdad
in flames at the crying Shrine of Mousa Al-Khadim
while Abu Hanifa descends into flakes of
black despair

They both want out…

"These are not our people.
They have murdered us in our graves. "

Pinned to my brain
the image of love
that will never be again

Baghdad nights now have gouged eyes.
the tunnels are endless
and the sunlight of infinity
that once shone through its lenses
has been crushed with
explosions of unanswered questions...

Pinned to this spirit
the dawn of doom
and the weight of eternity that comes with the point of no return.