Dunya Mikhail
December 11, 2020
Photo: Jrs Jahangeer

Translated from the Arabic by Dunya Mikhail 
(English follows the Arabic, below.)

“Capital steals time,” the poet Dionne Brand said in a conversation with the scholar Rinaldo Walcott on Tuesday, and this refrain has been looping in my mind. Amidst the accumulation of great griefs that characterize our present, it’s especially striking how capital denies us time for mourning, for missing. Where grief articulates the matter—the mattering—of loss, capitalism erodes mourning to authorize its death drive. Mourning refuses capitalism’s relentless presentism and opens onto an elsewhere—an elsewhere that Dunya Mikhail’s untitled poem touches. 

“In my journey looking for / where Time went, / I spent half of my life,” Mikhail writes. Each word sings in Mikhail’s clear, sparse poem; but it is the word “spent” I keep returning to. Here, life is “spent” not in pursuit of the pretense of mastering time, but in wandering after it—the forward thrust of accumulation supplanted by a dispersed loss. The speaker here dwindles toward absence by seeking the someone the speaker misses. (Who? A lost beloved? A former self?) And, isn’t this, too, how a candle is spent? A dwindling catching the air. In the convergence of absences: Brief light, little way.

– Claire Schwartz

Listen to Dunya Mikhail read “Untitled.”

قصيدة بلا عنوان

قالوا: الزمن لا يمضي
هو فقط يذهب إلى مكان آخر
.مثل كلبٍ ضلَّ طريقَه
في رحلتي للبحث عن المكان
الذي ذهبَ إليه الزمن
،أنفقتُ نصفَ عمري
وفي يوم وأنا أتجوّل
:سمعتُ صوتَ الزمن
لا أحدَ يُمكنهُ أن يلحقَ بي
فلماذا تحاولين ذلك؟
.قلتُ: لأنك تُشبه شخصاً أفتقدهُ


They said: Time does not pass.
It only goes to another place
like a dog losing its way.
In my journey looking for
where Time went,
I spent half of my life.
One day, as I was wandering,
I heard Time’s voice:
No one can follow me,
so why are you trying?
I said: Because you look like someone I miss.

Dunya Mikhail is an Iraqi-American author. New Directions published her books In Her Feminine Sign (2019), The Beekeeper (2018), The Iraqi Nights (2014), Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (2009), and The War Works Hard (2005).