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Balqis, one of my favorite poems. It’s written by Nizar Qabbani to his Iraqi wife Balqis al-Rawi, a schoolteacher whom he met at a poetry recital in Baghdad; she was killed in a bomb attack by guerrillas on the Iraqi embassy in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war on 15 December 1981. Her death had a severe psychological effect on Qabbani; he expressed his grief in this famous poem, blaming the entire Arab world for her death. After the death of Balqis, Qabbani did not marry again. 

Thank you.
Thank you.
For killing my Balqis(1).
Go, have a drink,
On the martyr’s grave’s brink.
My poem is assassinated.
For no nation but ours
Has such powers!

Balqis …

Was the most beautiful of Babel queens.

Balqis …

Was the tallest of all Iraqi palm trees.
She gracefully walks
As if followed by oryx and peacocks.
Balqis … You’re my pain…
The poem’s pain when thumbed.
How can plants sprout
After your hair’s rot?
Oh, green Nīnawā,
My blonde gypsy,
Tigris’ waves,
Wearing, in spring,
The best bracelets.
They killed you…
What an Arabs nation
That enjoys
The nightingales’ assassination?!
Where’re a-Samaw’al,
And al-Muhalhil(2),
And early generous masters?
Tribes have eaten tribes.
Snakes have slaughtered snakes.
Spiders have killed spiders.
I swear by your eyes,
Where a million planet lies.
My love, I will tell shocking tales about Arabs
Is heroism an Arabs’ lie?
Or, like us, does history heroism falsify?

Balqis,

Never finally rest,
Or the sun
Won’t shine over the coast.
When investigated,
I will say:
The thief takes the role of fighter.
I will say:
The talented leader becomes a contractor.
I will say:
The radiation’s tale is the nastiest joke.
We’re a tribe, like others, under the yoke.
Balqis..
This is history’s ugly face.
How can men differentiate between
A garden and a dustbin?

Balqis,

You’re a martyr, a poem;
Chaste and righteous.
Queen of Sheba people search to welcome
In return, go and hail them.
You, the greatest of all queens,
A woman who incarnates, all Sumerian Ages.

Balqis..

Of all birds, you’re the delicious.
Of all icons, the most precious.
Dear as tears, over Magdalene’s face.
Have I done you injustice,
When, once, I moved you from Adhamiyah(3) banks?
Everyday, Beirut kills one of us.
Everywhere, there is death,

In the cup of coffee,
In the door key,
In the terrace flowers,
In the papers,
In the alphabet.
Here we are, Balqis
Back again in Jahiliyyah(4).
Back to savagery.
To backwardness, hideousness and meanness.
Back again to barbarism.
Where writing is a journey
Between fragments.
Where killing a butterfly in its field
Is the case.
Do you know my beloved Balqis?
She is the most important in love books
A wonderful mix
Between softness and hardness
The color of violet in her eyes
Twinkles all times.

Balqis …

In my memory, you’re the most blest
A grave travelling through the mist.
Like any deer in Beirut, you’re slaughtered
After speech had been muzzled.
Balqis..
It is not a dirge

But…
It is a farewell to the Arab age.

Balqis..

We’re ever pining for you.
And the little house asks
About his perfumed princess’s whereabouts
We listen to the news, but it is mysterious
It leaves us ever curious.

Balqis..

We’re suffering to the bone.
The kids don’t know what’s going on.
I don’t know what to say, then?
Would you shortly knock at the door?
Would you take off your winter coat?
Would you come smiling,
And like field flowers shining?

Balqis …

The green plants you grow
Are still on the wall, making a crying show.
Your face is still moving
Between the mirrors and curtains
Even the cigarette you’re smoking
Keeps its lights
And its smoke is hanging.
Balqis …
We’re very sad at heart,
Struck dumb and shocked

Balqis …

How did you take away my days, and dreams.
And crossed off gardens and seasons?
Oh, my wife;
My love; my poem and my eyesight.
You were my beautiful bird.
How did you leave me without a word?
Balqis..
It’s time for perfumed, well stored Iraqi tea.
My giraffe, who will serve it gracefully?
Who moved Euphrates to our house?
Who moved Resafa and flowers of Tigris?

Balqis..

Grief penetrates me.
Beirut killed you,
About its crime, it never knew.
Beirut loved you; however,
It ignored killing its lover.
And put out moonlight forever.
Balqis …
Oh, Balqis …
Oh, Balqis …
Over you, every cloud weeps buckets.
Who will cry for me?
Balqis; how did you depart with no sign,
Without putting your hand in mine?

Balqis..

How could you leave us twisting in the wind,
Trembling as leaves?
You left-the three of us-lost,
As a feather under the rain.
Didn’t you think of me; your lover?
I need your love as much as Zeinab or Omar(5).

Balqis …

You’re a supernatural treasure,
An Iraqi Spear,
A bamboo wood.
You defied stars in their loftiness,
From where did you get such strength?
Balqis …
My friend; my companion,
Decent as a chrysanthemum.
For us, neither Beirut nor the sea has a space,
Nor can we find any suitable place.

Balqis..

You’re unmatchable,
A unique piece!
Balqis..
I’m tortured by our relation’s gory details.
And time hangs heavy, as tough as nails.
Every little hairpin has a story to tell.
Even your golden hairgrips,
Usually overwhelm me by waves of tenderness.
The sweet Iraqi voice,
On curtains,
On chairs,
On cutlery,
Rests.
You show up
From the mirrors,
From the rings,
From the poem,
From the candles,
From the cups,
From the purple wine.

Balqis …

Oh, Balqis…Oh, Balqis …
If only you recognized,
The pain caused by places you once occupied.
In every corner your spirit hovers as a bird,
Fully scented as a Balm wood.
There you used to smoke.
There you used to read.
There, as graceful as a palm tree,
You got your hair combed.
To welcome the guests you entered,
As brisk as a Yemeni sword.

Balqis..

Where is the Guerlain bottle?
And the blue light?
Where is your Kent cigarette,
Which is ever in your lips?
Where is Al Hashmey8 singing
Over such a good stature?
When combs remember you,
Their tears flow.
Do they suffer
As if they missed a lover?
Balqis: it is difficult to stay cold-blooded,
While with tongues of flame
And smoke I am surrounded.
Balqis: My princess you are
Burning in a tribe-against- tribe war.
What shall I write about my queen’s assassination?
My poem is but frank self-expression.
Among piles of victims, we look for
A falling star,
A body shattered as a mirror.
We wonder, my love:
Is it yours or Arabism’s grave?
Oh, Balqis:
You’re as graceful as a willow tree,
Resting your hair locks on me.
You walk, as a giraffe, in dignity.
Balqis:
It’s the fate of Arabs
To be assassinated by Arabs,
To be gobbled by Arabs,
To be slain by Arabs,
To be exhumed by Arabs.
How can we evade such a fate?
For an Arab dagger it is all the same,
Killing a gentleman or a madam.

Balqis:

If they blew you up,
It’s because all funerals start in Karbala
And end in Karbala.
No more history to read, I’m warned.
My fingers got burned
And my clothes are blood-covered.
Here we are in the Stone Age
Everyday gets us back a thousand years.
In Beirut the sea
Ceases to be, after you did go.
Poetry asks about its poem,
With incomplete words,
And none gives answers.
Sadness, Balqis, makes my heart bleed
As if it were an orange squeezed.
Now; I know the distress of words,
The plight of impossible language.
I, who have coined letters,
Don’t know how to start this one.
The sword penetrates into my waist
And into that of the sentence.
Balqis, culture in you is rated,
For a female is culture incarnated.
Who has slain
Balqis, my greatest good omen?
You prefigure the art of writing.
You are the island and the lighthouse.

Balqis …

My lark they buried among stones.
Now I break the cover,
Now I break the cover.
When under investigation, I will say:
I know the name…the things…
The prisoners…
The martyrs…the poor…and the helpless…
I’ll say I know the killer who put my wife to the sword…
I know all the informers’ faces…
I’ll say: our chastity is debauchery…
And our piety is immorality…
I’ll say: our struggle is a lie
And there’s no difference
Between politics and prostitution!!
When under investigation, I will say:
I had known the killers.
I’ll say:
Our Arab time is specialized in killing
Jasmine,
All prophets…
And all messengers…
Even green eyes
Are devoured by Arabs
Even hair locks; and rings;
Bracelets; mirrors; and toys.
Even the stars are afraid of my homeland
For a reason I can’t understand.
Even the birds fly away
And I don’t know why.
Even planets; boats; and clouds,
Even notebooks; and books,
And all things of beauty
Are against Arabs.
When your seraphic body was shattered,

Balqis,

Into a pearl glittered .
I wondered: Is killing women an Arabic hobby
Or are we originally a crime lobby?

Balqis,

My beautiful mare…
I’m ashamed of my history, a long nightmare.
It’s a country where they kill horses.
It’s a country where they kill horses.
Since you’re slaughtered,
Balqis,
The sweetest homeland,
One can’t stand,
Living in such a homeland.
One can’t stand,
Dying in such a homeland.
I’ve been sweating blood
And paying the ultimate price.
To please the world; but God decides,
To make me alone,
Like winter’s leaves.
Are poets born to wail,
Or is the poem a stab in the heart
That can’t heal.
Or I’m the only who cries,
Shedding the history of tears from his eyes.
When under investigation, I will say:
How my deer was slain by Abi Lahab(7)’s sword..
All thieves from the Gulf to the Ocean:
Destroy and burn,
Ransack and get bribed,
And rape women
As Abu Lahab likes…
All dogs are employed,
Eating,
And getting drunk
At Abi Lahab’s treat.
No wheat grows
If Abu Lahab disapproves.
No child is born
Until his mother goes to bed
With Abi Lahab.
No prison is open
Without Abi Lahab’s opinion.
None is beheaded
Without Abi Lahab’s command.
When under investigation, I will say:
How my princess was raped.
How they shared her turquoise -like greenish eyes
And her wedding ring.
I’ll say how they did share
Her golden running hair.
When under investigation, I will say:
How they pounced on her copy
Of the Holy Qu’ran
And set it on fire.
I’ll say how they made her bleed
How they got her mouth occupied.
Neither roses nor grapes were left.
Is Balqis slaughter
The only victory
Throughout Arabs’ history?

Balqis,

The love of my life.
The prophets who lie,
Squat on peoples’ head
With no message to convey.
If they could regain
From sad Palestine
A star;
Or an orange.
If they could fetch
From Gaza’s beach
In this self-centred,
Amoral,
Coward age.
The Arab World
Is Crushed; oppressed;
And muzzled.
We represent crime at its best,
So what’s (al-Iqd al Fareed) or (al-Aghani)?
My love they grabbed you though we held hands
They got the poem and left me speechless.
They got writing; reading;
Childhood; and wishes.
Balqis, oh, Balqis.
You’re tears dripping over violin’s strings.
I taught your killers the secrets of love,
But before the end of the course
They killed my horse.

Balqis:

I ask forgiveness.
Maybe your life was for mine, a sacrifice.
I know well that
your killers’ aims
were to kill my words.
My beautiful, rest in peace
After you, poetry will cease
And womanhood is out of place.
Generations of children’s flocks
Will keep asking about your long hair locks.
Generations of lovers
will read about you, the true instructor.
One day the Arabs will get it
That they killed the prophetess.
That they killed the prophetess.
Killed the prophetess.
Killed
The prophets.

Notes:

1 Bilqais is Nizar’s wife for whose tragic death, since she was bombed, he wrote this lament. Bilqais is also the name of the Queen of Sheba as mentioned in the Holy Quran and Islamic traditions.
2 Samaw’al and Al-Muhalhil were two Arab histori- cal figures known for their bravery and generosity.
3 Adhamiyah is a place in Iraq where Bilqais used to live before her marriage to the poet.
4 Jahiliyyah is the pagan age when Arabs wor- shipped statues. The poet debunks Arabs’ complete uncivilized manners and how they behaved as if they were pagan savages.
5 Zeinab and Omar are the children of Nizar and Bilqais.
6 Al Hashmey is a kind of bird which sings at home (a nightingale).
7 Abu Lahab is a historical figure, the prophet’s uncle. His full name was Abd-al-Uzza ibn ‘Abdul Mut- talib. He got that nickname, which literally meant in English “Father of Hell”, because he hated the Muslims and tortured any convert heartlessly. In the poem, it refers to those merciless, unscrupulous people.
8 These are two of the most important books about the history of Arabic culture and literature (Al‘Aqqad Al-Fareed and Al-Aganī).

If you want to kill somebody, conquer his heart,
 then leave slowly and leave them between death and madness.
- Nizar Qabbani‎, نزار قباني 

We are deteriorating.