Four Poems from Kurdistan

September 8, 2020
translated by Jiyar Homer & Shook
A dark hole opened into rocky, dry soil
Photo by Kawan Nahaee

Both a poet and novelist in Kurdish and Persian, Kawan Nahaee has a significant audience on social media, where the poems he posts often engage with current events. This set of poems, like many of Nahaee’s, pair traditional images of eastern Kurdistan, located within the borders of present-day Iran, like the Brno-brand rifles popular in World War II and familiar to the children of peshmerga, and the music of Fetane Welîdî, with the latest news communicated on Twitter, like his poem that takes as its first two lines a direct quote from Donald Trump’s October 20, 2019, tweet about the United States military’s withdrawal from Rojava. In fact, it was the early-October drawdown of American troops from Rojava and the subsequent Turkish invasion of the region that prompted Nahaee to publish these poems and Jiyar Homer and I to translate them. In Sulaimani, near the border of Iran in eastern Iraqi Kurdistan, we felt the pressure of the political and military upheaval around us, with the protests in Iraq’s south continuing to grow and the situation to our west in Syrian Kurdistan deteriorating daily, but even with the popular sentiment against the Popular Mobilization Forces militias sponsored by Iran, we did not foresee the sudden escalation of regional and broader international conflict brought on by the US assassination by drone of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani on January 3. Today, these poems describe and decry both conflicts as well as the Iranian state’s long-term persecution of its Kurds, which number 6–8 million. – David Shook



I have put my homeland in a backpack
and I take it from country to country
I would like for all the world to see it
My friend says: Sheep’s cheese is the most delicious cheese
So I think of a train
Crossing it back and forth
Not over my friend
Over the homeland where I was born
Oh! You don’t know how nice it is to travel by train
I am thirty-three years old and it’s my first time to take a train
I still haven’t seen a plane up close
But the Chinese think that a ship is the only thing that can’t be eaten
You know what?
For some, their homeland is a ship and they put it to sea
For some, their homeland is a plane and they launch it
For some, like me, their homeland fits in a backpack
But my friend gets red in the face, insisting that
Sheep’s cheese is the most delicious cheese


Translated from the Kurdish


War Is a Jackass!

War is standing at the door
Mother closes the latch
My brother does his assignment
“Describe the War”
War scales the fence
The last time war came to our house
He took our slaughtered father with him
Oh war! We’re not afraid of you, Mother says
She says, We say welcome to the war
She says, Write, my boy
Write your essay with blood
With your brother’s blood
And write with the brush that dyed your sisters’ ringlets
We welcome you, war

War jumps into the house’s courtyard
Mother points father’s Brno at the war
War breaks his leg
War shrieks in pain
Mother points father’s Brno at the war
War opens the latch
And limps away
We laugh
Mother says, My boy, write your essay
While my brother laughs
He writes, War is a jackass
Mother closes the latch again
And she cleans my father’s Brno


Secured the Oil . . .

We have secured the oil
Bringing soldiers home!
Soldiers go back to your homes
And cry at your mother’s breast
And go to church
Confess to your father
And go back home again
And cry on your mother’s breast
This war is endless
So you’ll come back soon
And you’ll protect our oil fields
We have learned to protect ourselves
Go back to your homes
And sob on your mother’s breast


The Day after the War

Sleep my daughter
When you wake up tomorrow
The earth will be a safer place
Sleep my daughter
When you wake up tomorrow
There will be no more war on earth
And the voice of Fetane Welîdî
will be the earth’s anthem
And every border will be erased from the map
Sleep my daughter
The day after the war will be a new day


Translated from the Persian

Kawan Nahaee is a Kurdish poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in 1982 in Bane, eastern Kurdistan, he earned his master’s degree in art and architecture at Sine University. His novel ‘پێشەوا قاقا پێدەکەنێ’ (Pêşewa bursts out laughing), written in Kurdish, came out in 2018. He has published two collections of poetry written in Kurdish: وتم باران، نووسیت چەتر (I said rain, you wrote umbrella) and بۆب ئێسپەنجی لە ڕۆژهەڵاتی ناوەڕاست (SpongeBob in the Middle East). His forthcoming collection جەنگ (War) will appear in both languages. He won first prize for Kurdish-language poetry at the Pîranşar Festival of Modern Poetry in 2016 and first prize for a short story at the Bane International Story Festival in 2015.

Jiyar Homer (@Jiyar_Homer) is a translator, editor, and language enthusiast in southern Kurdistan. He speaks Kurdish, English, Spanish, Arabic, and Persian. He is a co-editor and translator at the Kurdish literary magazine Îlyan. He was also a co-founder, co-editor, and translator for the Kurdish cinema magazine Cine-na. He has translated many works from the aforementioned languages into Kurdish and vice versa. His current projects include a co-translation with Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse of the short stories of Farhad Pirbal.

Shook’s most recent book-length translations include Jorge Eduardo Eielson’s Room in Rome, a finalist for the PEN Award. Their forthcoming books include a new translation of Mario Bellatin’s Beauty Salon and a collection of Spanish-language poetry, Atlas estelar.