The Iowa Review

The Book of Un

Khaled Mattawa

- khaled mattawa

1/ Psalm on the Road to Agadez

Day and night traveled to reach these shores West to North

East to North North to North To North to North,

your country, your savage country where you are free!

2/ Blessing’s Song

The hands of your kin, pits of desire for the pain of others. Flogging pounding prodding scalding human flesh.

Is this the legacy of your noble, longawaite­d revolt, O poet friend?

3/ Voicemail, Zwara

Italians take boat, but captain, how much he worth?

Ride along a few miles, hand boat over to Sudanese cook.

Some hours later you kiss sleeping toddler waiting you return.

4/ Song of Dahman El Harrach

Traveler, where are you heading? You embark, take sick and return.

So many innocents like you and me were duped and lost their way.

5/ On the Zodiac (Search Call)

The boy next to me covers his eyes not to see the waves. He falls under our feet.

A pregnant woman vomits, starts screaming, screams all night long.

Below deck, people shout they can’t breathe, the men go down, start beating them.

Tonight, searchligh­ts’ swords slashing sky can’t find us in the dark.

6/ Voicemail, Palermo

Some day will be money on other side, someone want cargo arrive safe.

Someone calculate actuarials potential return, a dozen girls, give you quote.

Here, now, no one say, I make you pay if cargo killed or lost.

7/ Constance Song

How am I not one of the gone? How did the Hand know to snatch my child

from my breast? A succubus angel wanders the desert clouds, swirls below the sand.

8/ una

prefix meaning “not,” freely used as an English formative, giving negative or opposite force

in adjectives and their derivative adverbs and nouns (unfair; unfairly; unfairness; unfelt; unseen; unfitting;

unformed; unheard-of) and less freely used in certain nouns (unrest; unemployme­nt).

9/ The Affari

Someone reaping land, trading it for a 4x4 or a shipload of gasoline, each body trucked or shipped.

Something to the trafficker, rescue worker, boat mechanic, driver, kidnapper, salesman, food exporter, tire repairman, money changer, doctor, medicine man, volunteer.

For each house torn down or blown up, each bullet-riddled school, each clinic built, detention center overrun.

Something to peacekeepe­r, terrorist, jetdrone bombing him.

A salary, a bribe a grant, a stipend a ransom, a fellowship.

10/ Fire at Sea Haibun (A Funeral Chant)

“Fire at Sea” refers to a migrant tragedy that occurred on the night of October 3, 2013 by the shore of the Italian island of Lampedusa. A boat carrying migrants that had set sail from Misrata, Libya, began to sink less than half a mile from the island. Passengers lit torches to seek help, but a fire ignited and ended up consuming the whole boat. Out of the more than 500 passengers on board, 155 were rescued. The chant here refers to another migrant tragedy in 2015 where a passenger on a sinking dinghy pleads for help. The Italian Coast Guard who could not locate the boat kept asking him the same question, which now seems to have a resonance rich with meanings regarding all aspects of what has been called the refugee crisis.

What is your position, please?

What is your position, please?

What is your position, please?

11/ Constance Song

Wave, checkpoint, and dune— the roads we tread.

Each day a ragged plastic cup:

People who forget how to die, and loss befriends their lament to a fog heavy as wings.

“Far away, somewhere,

I have a brother or a sister in this world,” my Blessing hums.

12/ Song with Lines from EM

Ours be the tossing—wild through the sea—rather than a mooring—unshared by thee 13/ Trafficker Monologue

Don’t fear their eyes. They came to you, after all, they paid their way. Oh, they’ll kill you given the chance.

You are a key in the dicey maze of their lives, you clamp the cruelest lock. Your breath is as foul as theirs.

Sometimes you think you’d had enough of this trade in death, so much life, these knots of unsorted dreaming?

But the sea is calm again, bats circle the tangerine grove, riding the sultry breeze. Time to send another boat, perhaps.

What’s her name? Constance or Blessing, the one paying her fare in bed— she’ll be here when you return. 14/ Voicemail, Valetta

When you make enough money from the

boat affari to bribe refinery bureaucrat,

give us call. We issue port of origin,

unload phantom content in friendly port, wire fee

to account. Best is Cyprus also Dubai. 15/ Mortician’s Testimony

You take tissue sample and fingerprin­ts if intact.

Note distinct features or marks.

Some have clothes on with IDS or passports in their pockets. Or the crew

bring documents in plastic bags, snatched like dead jellyfish drifting on the sea.

You try to match face with photo, you bring the priest, the imam. No one’s going home. Most times

there’s no match. That’s when

I seek their places of birth on the app and recite weight, height, gender,

possible age, tattoos, birth marks— It’s to the Ante-mortem, my one and only lord, that I pray. 16/ Roszke Detention Camp Journal

So who feeds—on —this not

so exile— crisis— banishment—

sign says— We will let you—

abandoned stadia—shipping containers—

your children darting about—

lice— bed bugs— rats 17/ Curse Tablet (Calais)

who conquer virgin continents who squat on burial grounds

who sleep murderous sleep

who taint with spells who fertilize poisoned seed what drink what eat

what curse split oceans what manna from hell sky to feed what greed

blood smears hands, arms vengeance ink inscribed in rules endowed war the peace you keep 18/ Afel Bocoum’s Song

There are those who think life is eternal.

It is not; it is only spirits overheatin­g. 19/ Moria Refugee Camp Journal

A dream births night—

terror— mare— mirrors

in the— conjures— rocks

out of— detours— from ocean

waves of the— Sisyphus’

lift climb drop 20/ Afterward Breathing

We have after children the born here sea

now. still

At night we at watch them sea

to learn under from their the breathing. sea

21/ ’Alam by Ahmad Fouad Nagm

You have no guide but the eyes of speech

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