Sinan Antoon

Born in Iraq in 1967, Sinan Antoon is a poet, novelist, and filmmaker. He studied English literature at Baghdad University before coming to the United States after the 1991 Gulf War. His poems and articles (in Arabic and English) have appeared in an-Nahar, as-Safir, Masharef, al-Adab, The Nation, al-Ahram Weekly, Kikah and Banipal. His poetry was included in Iraqi Poetry Today.

He has published a collection of poems: Mawshur Muballal bil-Huroob (A Prism; Wet with Wars, Mirit Books, Cairo) and a novel I`jam (Diacritics) (Dar al-Adab, Beirut). Antoon returned to Iraq in 2003 as a member of InCounter Productions to film a documentary entitled About Baghdad about the lives of Iraqis in a post-Saddam occupied Iraq. He currently teaches Arabic and Arabic literature at Dartmouth College. 


Wrinkles: on the wind’s forehead

the wind is a blind mother
over the corpses
no shrouds
save the clouds
but the dogs
are much faster

the moon is a graveyard
for light
the stars women

the wind was tired
from carrying the coffins
and leaned
against a palm tree
A satellite inquired:
Where to now?
the silence
in the wind’s cane murmured:
and the palm tree caught fire 

the soldier’s fingers scrape
and scrabble
like question marks
or sickles
they search the womb
of the wind
for weapons
nothing but smoke
and depleted uranium

how narrow is this strait
which sleeps
between two wars
but I must cross it

My heart is a stork
perched on a distant dome
in Baghdad
it’s nest made of bones
its sky
of death

This is not the first time
myths wash their face
with our blood
(t)here they are
looking in horizon’s mirror
as they don our bones

war salivates
tyrants and historians pant
a wrinkle smiles
on the face of a child
who will play
during a break
between wars

The Euphrates
is a long procession
Cities pat its shoulders
as palm trees weep

The child plays
in time’s garden
but war calls upon her
from inside:
come on in!

The grave is a mirror
into which the child looks
and dreams:
when will I grow up
and be like my father
. . .

the Tigris and Euphrates
are two strings
in death’s lute
and we are songs
or fingers strumming

For two and a half wars
I’ve been here
in this room
whose window is a grave
that i’m afraid of opening
there is a mirror on the wall
when I stand before it
my bones laugh
and I hear death’s fingers
tickling the door

I place my ear
on the belly of this moment
I hear wailing
I put it on another moment:
- the same! 

Questions for Reflection: “Wrinkles: on the wind’s forehead” 

  1. How does Antoon use metaphor in his poem, Wrinkles?
  2. What do feel are the most powerful metaphor he uses? The most sensitive? The most upsetting?
  3. What is the significance of the question that satellite asks? Why does the palm tree catch fire with the answer to the question?
  4. What does the reference to two wars mean?
  5. How does Antoon transform the image of the stork in his poem?
  6. What are the most powerful images for you that Antoon writes of in his poem?
  7. How are the lives of children transformed by war?
  8. What is the meaning in section 12 of the poem that “we are songs or fingers strumming?”
  9. What phrases does Antoon use to depict the doom of war?    


Wars I

when i was torn by war
i took a brush
immersed in death
and drew a window
on war's wall
i opened it
searching for
i saw another war
and a mother
weaving a shroud
for the dead man
still in her womb 

Questions for Reflection: “Wars I” 

  1. What is the vision that the speaker of this poem has?
  2. What is the significance of what the speaker in the poem is seeing? What does he have to say about war?
  3. How does the poet use metaphor in his work?
  4. What is the meaning of the title of this poem?
  5. What feeling does the poem convey to you? What is the vision held in the poem?