Dunya Mikhail has been a witness to two wars in her lifetime. Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1965 she is an ethnic Assyrian. She worked early in her career as a literary editor for the Baghdad Observer. She was forced to flee Iraq in the late 1990s after facing countless threats and harassment from the government. … Continued
Dunya Mikhail has been a witness to two wars in her lifetime. Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1965 she is an ethnic Assyrian. She worked early in her career as a literary editor for the Baghdad Observer. She was forced to flee Iraq in the late 1990s after facing countless threats and harassment from the government. Mikhail received the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing, and in 2004 she received the PEN’s translation award for her poetry collection, The War Works Hard. A speaker of Arabic, Assyrian and English. Mikhail’s poetry appears in numerous journals and anthologies including World Beat: International Poetry Now and Iraqi Poetry Today.
The War Works Hard
How magnificent the war is How eager and efficient! Early in the morning it wakes up the sirens and dispatches ambulances to various places swings corpses through the air rolls stretchers to the wounded summons rain from the eyes of mothers digs into the earth dislodging many things from under the ruins some are lifeless and glistening others are pale and still throbbing it produces the most questions in the minds of children entertains the gods by shooting fireworks and missiles into the sky sows mines in the fields and reaps punctures and blisters urges families to emigrate stands beside the clergymen as they curse the devil (while the poor remain with one hand in the searing fire). The war continues working, day and night it inspires tyrants to deliver long speeches awards medals to generals and themes to poets it contributes to the industry of artificial limbs provides food for flies adds pages to the history books achieves equality between killer and killed teaches lovers to write letters accustoms young women to waiting fills the newspapers with articles and pictures builds new houses for the orphans invigorates the coffin makers and gives grave diggers a pat on the back paints a smile on the leader’s face. It works with unparalleled diligence! Yet no one gives it a word of praise.
He plays a train. She plays a whistle. They move away.
He plays a rope. She plays a tree. They swing.
He plays a dream. She plays a feather. They fly.
He plays a general. She plays people. They declare war.
translated by Elizabeth Winslow, from The War Works Hard, published by Carcanet Press
Mikhail, Dunya. The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005).
“Yesterday I lost a country,” Dunya Mikhail writes in The War Works Hard, a revolutionary work by an exiled Iraqi poet—her first to appear in English. Amidst the ongoing atrocities in Iraq, here is an important new voice that rescues the human spirit from the ruins, unmasking the official glorification of war with telegraphic lexical austerity. Embracing literary traditions from ancient Mesopotamian mythology to Biblical and Qur’anic parables to Western modernism, Mikhail’s poetic vision transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries with liberating compassion.
The Voices Education Project offers tools, philosophies, and learning methods that will help young people understand the roots of conflict and the trauma of war, confront the pain and fear at the heart of conflict, and help to build healthy human communities in the wake of war. We use the arts and education to transform the consciousness of young people, give teachers and students a way to explore the most important and terrifying issues of our day, and create a dialogue in which all voices can be heard, and all points of view included, without engendering fear, hatred, or anger.