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Dunya Mikhail (Iraqi)

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


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.

Pronouns 

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.

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