Poetry by Faleeha Hassan

If He Comes

With more than a little embarrassment,

I ask my neighbor:

“Would you please loan me a dress today,

One fit for love?”

I also beg her not to share our secret with the flock of sparrows,

Because I know sparrows constantly twitter the most sizzling gossip.

I run as the wind almost lifts me and my load.

A query vexes my heart:

“Is he really coming?

Is it really Spring?

Here’s the perfume I set aside for a rainy day.”

I begin searching boxes’ drowsy contents.

“Shouldn’t I decorate these windows with a sprig of flowers?”

I begin to worry:

“What if he doesn’t bring a single rose?

Do these chairs know who might sit on them?

You’ll be a bride if he does!

What about the tables?”

I rarely share them with anything

Save my silence.

What will they think today when they shake like my heart?

Is anyone else in on my secret?

Is she yearning for him too?

“Goblet, I’ve neglected you for ages.

Will you really receive his ladling lips?”

I wish I were the shaft of that glass.

If he wants some tea,

Will I pour a cup for him?

Will he choke on its bitter taste?”

I may ask him:

“How have you survived bachelorhood for years?

And why are your hands silent?

And . . . .”

No! No, I shan’t prepare tea or questions for him.

It’s just, that . . . if only he comes . . .

My door, I’ll leave you shut against all possibilities

And watch for his silence.

An Appeal

Please don’t write my name here.

What I compose now

May not be a qasida, or any kind of poem.

Just take this kindling and incinerate our bloody present!

Burn it to embers

And scatter its ashes far from children’ eyes.

Forget about Imru’ al-Qays, who stole girls’ clothes, and

Rode to and fro on his steed.

Mock what we’ve gleaned from the history,

That clings to our backs.

Desert the haunts of Banu Abs,

Because flies, swarming excitedly, cluster there.

The illiterate Umayyads!

Don’t stumble on their leftover letters

Strewn down heretical trails.

Don’t trust dinars minted by an Abbasid prince;

They’re Barmakid counterfeits.

No, the Andalusian didn’t plant an orchard.

Only the Mongols created lasting history

When the bloody Khan sacked Baghdad.

Never swear again by the Tigris,

For it is running low,

And our Euphrates carries


And corpses.

Rip out this page if you want,

Because I may be cursed by someone better versed in history!

Or . . .

Don’t write my name on it,

Because, this may be more than just a poem.

Let our children cleanse themselves of filthy wars

And choose new names for us!


A crazy woman

Never stopped thinking about him.

He fled on a bicycle, with only his shirt and what was left of his trousers.

Leaving the sun and moon to take turns striking the walls of his mudbrick house,

While the family’s ears of grain were gnawed by hungry rats!

He wasn’t cherished in Egypt or elsewhere.

People wondered about his murky identity,

And he disguised his link to clay.

Handsome Joseph, shall we say,

Was shunned by women,

And his name was inscribed together with those of barefoot laborers

Denied love.

A congenital liar,

A boy in torn clothes, he

Scattered dogs with his staff.

And was content to disappear from the lineup.

Zulaykha, enjoying a glass of milk and a bite of an apple,

Sits on a warm balcony,

Gazing at violets,

Oak trees,

And lively little bees

As delirious as a love poem.

She is caught up in memories,

Which she watches—

As in the painting by Velázquez—

Arachne write something only to erase it.


She glides away on the wing of a goldfinch

To a corner of the garden,

Where an old man sits

Trying to slip between the lines of a faded folio

To make the news fly far, far away,

To where his brethren are collected by the well,

Attempting unsuccessfully to

Gather their tattered spirits!

After School

When I’m late returning from school,

I withdraw a fish from the river’s pocket

And offer it to

Oil in the frying pan!

I sketch a street—exactly like those in China—flooded with passersby

And draw Faleeha tucked among them,

Waiting for the green light,

To cross.

I draw a storm,

To carry me away,

Another to lift my books,

And a third, a sandstorm, to make the scene more intense.


But as easily as a cloud,

I sit in the corner here,

On a bench by a pink door,

Listening to a vendor cry:

“Stork Eggs! Bayd al-Laqlaq!” [1]

He passes by houses

That haven’t been calmed by a key’s sigh.

I rest my head on the sun’s palm

And watch

The stork’s fluttering wing


Sugar confetti

On the roofs

Of our street’s houses!


[1] Bayd al-Laqlaq is a candy made from sugar and flavorings. The vendor carries them in a basket while singing: “The stork soared away and attacked the headman’s house.”

War’s Drizzle

Our mothers, who loved us more than we love ourselves,

Were baffled by wars.

They forgot to anoint our lives with balm to ward off bloody battles.

That’s why, whenever a king is sober enough

To slip on victory’s shoes, crafted from the skins of loyal soldiers, and

Breathlessly deliver

Rotten orations,

From the dais of prevarication,

He opens his mouth, and

Drizzling words spatter us,

While our lives fester with

War’s abscesses.


Faleeha Hassan

Faleeha Hassan (b. 1967, Najaf, Iraq) is a poet, playwright, fiction writer, teacher, and editor now based in the United States. The first woman to write poetry for children in Iraq, she earned her master’s degree in Arabic literature and has published 25 books. Her poems have been translated into English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Greek, Serbian, Albanian, Kurdish, Turkmen, Korean, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam, and Odia, and she’s received many awards in Iraq and throughout the Middle East for her poetry and short stories. Translations of her writing have appeared in The Guardian, The Galway Review, Words Without Borders, The Brooklyn Rail/InTranslation, Scarlet Leaf Review, and The American Poetry Review, to name just a few. She was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2018 and received a Pushcart Prize in 2019.

William Hutchins

William Maynard Hutchins has translated many works of Arabic literature into English, including Return of the Spirit by Tawfiq al-Hakim, The Cairo Trilogy by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, and The Fetishists by Ibrahim al-Koni. His translation of New Waw by al-Koni won the ALTA National Translation Award for Prose in 2015. A three-time National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Hutchins has published his translations from the Arabic in The Brooklyn Rail/InTranslationBanipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere. He holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Chicago and has taught subjects ranging from English and Arabic to philosophy and religious studies at the Gerard School in Sidon, Lebanon, the University of Ghana, the American University in Cairo, and Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.

Copyright (c) Faleeha Hassan, 2020. English translation copyright (c) William Hutchins, 2020.