The Iraqi Poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

[Note: This is the 19th in a series of translations of selected letters of the noted Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. For more information on the poet, click here.]

Letter #19

Basra 9/11/1963

My Dear Brother ‘Asim (al-Gindi),

I have been silent too long because I have been going through the final stages of treatment. Neither British nor French medicine has been able to cure my illness, so I finally resorted to popular Arabic medicine, and I followed the saying of our noble Prophet: (cauterization is the last resort of treatment). Yes, I have tried it with hot metal skewers at the hands of a Bedouin healer. The complete results of this treatment have not appeared yet because the wounds caused by cauterization have not healed in spite of the twenty days that have passed. Nevertheless, there is a glimpse of hope. Let us leave all this behind.

I have read your kind, merciful and fair words in “Scheherazade.” Many thanks. Did I inform you of my great admiration for your (13) stories? I am still affected by them. They have moved me to the core.

This winter I am thinking of visiting Cairo at the insistence of some of my friends there. I will pass by Beirut on my way to Cairo and stay there for about two days or so. Of course, everything depends on the improvement of my health. It is best if you discuss the topic of my new poetry collection with “al-Mu’assasa al-‘Arabiya.” This is the best that I have written so far. My goal is to sell the manuscript and to collect the price in advance. The least that I will accept is one thousand liras and fifty personal copies.

How are your literary circles at (Uncle Sam)? How I long for a gathering there! [I long to] sip a cup of coffee there (extra sugar), Turkish coffee of course, and listen to a song by a black American: “Come back, back, no more.” Would time allow me to realize this desire?

It is important that you mail me the issue of (al-Usbu’ al-Arabi) that has an article about my (Manzil al-Aqnan). Would you ask Mr. In’aam to bring it to you?

I have a prose poem, a short piece composed by a young Lebanese poetess whom I met in Beirut. I have a strong liking for her. I wrote three poems about her. Are you prepared to publish them in (Scheherazade) if I send them to you? I have included the meaning of her poem in mine: (Rahala al-Nahar) which was published in the first issue of (Hiwar). Tell me what you think.

These days, I only write purely personal poetry. I am not committed anymore. What did I gain from commitment? This illness and this desolation? Perhaps I am living the last of my days now. I am writing the best I have ever written. Who knows? Don’t think that I am a pessimist. The contrary is true, but my position on death has changed. I am no longer afraid of it. Let it come whenever it does. I feel that I have lived too long: I have accompanied (Gilgamesh) on his adventures. and have escorted (Ulysses) in his wonderings, and have lived the entire Arabic history. Isn’t this enough?!

Again, I apologize for my delayed response. Greetings to Mr. In’aam (al-Jundi), Professor Khalil Hawi and Miss Daisy (al-Amir). Special greetings toGhassan Kanafani and the rest of the group at (Uncle Sam’s) particularly the beautiful ones.

My reliable address is:
Maslahat al-Mawani’ al-Iraqiya, al-Ma’qil

Sincerely yours,
Al-Saayab

[From the book, al-Sayyab’s Letters, by Majid al-Samurra’i, (Beirut: Al-Mu’assasa al-‘Arabiya li-al-dirasat wa-al-Nashr, Second Edition, 1994, p. 220) Translated from the original Arabic and with an introduction by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D., Columbia University.]