Three Poems


A painting of a woman's face, composed in angular lines
Photo: Ismail Khayat, A Girl, 2015, Sulaimani, 40 x 27, acrylic paint and colored pencils on paper.


After Halabja* suffocated,
I wrote a long complaint to God
Before everyone,
I read it to a tree.
The tree cried.
From one side, a bird, a postman,
Said, “All right, who will deliver it?
If you are expecting me to take it,
I won’t reach Gods throne.
Late that night,
My angelic poem, dressed for mourning,
Said, “Don’t worry. 
I will take it to the heights
Of the atmosphere.
But I won’t promise
He will take the letter Himself.
You know, the Great God
Who can see Him?
I said, “Thank you. Fly.”
My angelic inspiration flew
With my complaint.
The next day, it was returned.
God’s fourth secretary down,
A man by the name of Obaid,
At the bottom
Of the very same complaint,
Wrote to me in Arabic:
“Idiot, make it Arabic.
People here don’t know Kurdish.
They won’t take it to God.”

*Translator’s note: On March 16, 1988, as part of Anfal, Saddam Hussein’s military campaign against the Kurds of Iraq, Halabja withstood a chemical-weapons attack. The largest directed against a civilian population in history, it has been recognized as an act of genocide by the Iraqi High Criminal Court.



In the year of ’88
All the gods
Could see
The villagers’ bodies
Spitting as they burned,
But none moved.
Only to light
The cigarettes on their lips
Did they incline their heads
To those fires.



Bekas* used to say,
“Each joy I wear
Its sleeves are either
Too short or too long,
Too loose or too tight
On me.
And each sorrow I wear
Fits as if it were made for me
Wherever I am.”

* Translator’s note: Bekas here refers to the poet’s father, Faiq Bekas, a famous poet in his own right.

Translations from the Kurdish

Sherko Bekas (1940–2013) published over twenty books and served as the founding chair for Sardam, a major publishing house in Iraqi Kurdistan. In his twenties, he joined the Peshmerga and fought the Baathist regime. Under severe political pressure, he sought asylum in Sweden from 1987 to 1992. His poems have been translated into Arabic, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Italian, French, and English.

Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse is a poet, translator, and assistant professor. She serves as the director of Kashkul (see WLT, July 2018) and the Slemani UNESCO City of Literature.

Halo Fariq is a prolific translator from English to Kurdish. He also serves as a three-star captain in the Peshmerga.