My father passed away three years ago, and until he died, he had a habit of referring to his books as if they still existed. In fact he had to give them away many times in his life, when he fled Kurdistan, when he was in prison. And this poem is about the only time I witnessed him get rid of two thousand books, when we left Iraqi Kurdistan in the aftermath of genocide.
My father’s books
It was autumn 1988 when my father’s books dispersed.
One by one they came off his shelves,
cleaned themselves of his signature
and grouped, choosing different fates.
The books with conscience divided.
The stubborn ones set themselves alight,
too rebellious in their objection
they chose death over life in the dark.
The others preferred a hiding place.
Hoping to see the light again
they packed themselves into a luggage bag,
buried themselves in the back garden,
to be recovered many years later
crumpled, eaten by the damp.
The rest chose more suitable homes
where they wouldn’t be abandoned again.
They shone on other people’s shelves
keeping their secret to themselves.
from Life for Us (Bloodaxe, 2004), © Choman Hardi 2004, used by permission of the author and the publisher