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  • Samantha Hoch

Dunya Mikhail's Authentic Beauty

This is a brief reflection on a reading done by one of my current favorites, Dunya Mikhail. The video referenced can be seen at the following link:

Dunya Mikhail’s readings of her own work, from “Diary of a Wave Outside of the Sea” and “Iraqi Nights” for 92Y via YouTube were a wonderful representation of her ideas and experiences of war. Some of her most powerful poems “The War Works Hard”, “Iraqis and Other Monsters” and “Everything” (later renamed “The end of the World”) use strong imagery to describe the life of a woman whose country has always known war, and her insights detail what life looks like day to day in Iraq. She wrote “A Second Life” to talk about why she thinks Iraqis deserve a second life, as the first was marred by the atrocities of war, while Iraq seems to remain perpetually in that state. Some of her most powerful lines from that poem include, “We need a second life to learn how to live without pain” and “ we need a second life for love only”. Mikhail’s reflections on life as a Iraqi (now Iraqi-American) allow us the experiences of all aspects of life in war-torn Iraq, including her experience of pregnancy in the poem “Larsa”. “Larsa” is as much a celebration of love and motherhood as it is a realistic depiction of carrying that pregnancy to term in the midst of grief, loss, and chaos. She paints this contrast with heavy imagery such as “love you louder than the sounds of explosions” and “love you deeper than the wounds exchanged between Iraqis and Americans”, and finally, “nations stop fighting because you are beautiful”. Her imagery in these poems and contrasting emotions of grief and adoration give the reader (listener) a unique and gut-wrenching perspective that is wholly and authentically the style of Dunya Mikhail. Finally, her poem about Lot’s wife, an allusion to the biblical story of a man whose wife was turned to a pillar of salt as she glanced back at the demise of Sodom, is as profoundly ironic as it is humorous. It provides the “what if” angle, exploring where they’d be if she hadn’t looked back and they were still together in each other’s loving company. Some of the best lines in this storyline include images of them “blowing the candles of their anniversary of 500 years” and “sitting gently like two statues of salt”. She also paints a philisophical backdrop with images like “the river flowing with no conditions” and the beauty of no time and no place”. Dunya Mikhail’s poems effectively draw the listener into a real world of emotional trauma and an exhaustion from war, but do so in such an artistic and authentic way that forces us to reconsider, is it the end of the world?

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