You think of deserts and date palms but this place
floods in spring, temperatures below freezing, sand
turns to bog. Just getting to Qurna was tough going;
everything sank (guns, supplies, men) in a mounting
tide of mud; the injured sloshed along on AT carts,
screaming for morphine. We built a bridge of boats
to reach the so-called Garden of Eden – lanes were
littered with rubbish; in between derelict reed hovels
and dirty gutters we found the Tree of Knowledge —
it was leaning crooked through a shell-pocked roof.
Tom: Second Lieutenant Thomas Charles Lewis
Suddenly, I saw my son across the square, standing
lost, unprepared under the horizontals of choking
smoke from exploding grenades: I screamed at him
above the jostling crowd but he just stood there,
head bare, brows crouched in a frown. I called again
but my voice fell away; then we were caught in cross-
fire between the Mahdi Army and the Irish Guards —
we realised it was too late to go anywhere. Qurna,
our birthplace, was a conflagration, where Saddam
ruled, Adam and Eve sinned and Alexander died.
Maryam: a Christian Iraqi (interviewed in the Guardian, 2009)
Jenny Lewis is a poet and playwright. Her latest work is After Gilgamesh for Pegasus Theatre, Oxford (Mulfran Press, 2011) and Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet, 2014) in which the two poems above appear. Singing for Inanna, her new book of poems in English and Arabic with the Iraqi poet Adnan al Sayegh will be published by Mulfran Press in September 2014. She teaches poetry at Oxford University.
Taking Mesopotamia was originally inspired by Jenny’s search for her lost father —the young South Wales Borderer who fought in the ill-fated Mesopotamian campaign of World War l. Through reconstructed diary extracts, witness statements, formal poems and free verse, the book extends into a wider exploration of the recent Iraq wars.