Our featured publication for June is Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer, published by Seren.
Inspired by the many stories and parts of stories she heard as a child and visiting family in
Iraq as an adult, Ameer has written a book that celebrates the resilience of her forebears and
extended family in Baghdad and around the world. The book presents a range of characters in
a mixture of political and personal poems; ordinary people living in extraordinary
circumstances; those who remain in Iraq, those who flee Saddam’s regime or the civil strife
subsequent to the US-led Invasion and its aftermath. The grief of those in exile is keenly felt
as they yearn for the place and people they have left.
“This remarkable debut offers us a treasure-chest of 50 stories that lift the wraps from the
personal and the public, the domestic and the political, revealing a hoard of complex tales,
deftly, powerfully told. Abeer Ameer’s poems weave a series of mesmerising journeys back
and forth between Iraq and the UK, exploring the interstices and convergences between
cultures, between atrocity and hope, faith and dogma, language, silence and love. Ameer tells
it bluntly, sometimes wryly, but with surgical precision and composure: each poem vibrant
with the smells, tastes, textures, muscles and heartbeat of authentic experience, ‘in the search
for home between two rivers’.” Robert Walton
“This debut collection by Abeer Ameer is a moving, impassioned exploration of human
resilience in the face of political upheaval, state persecution, the violence of war and the pain
of exile. Intimate and personal, rooted in history that is at once ancient and contemporary,
individual and international, these poems remind us that even in the darkest times, there is
light, and there is love. Inhale / Exile insists that the reader doesn’t turn away from suffering,
like the photographer who must ‘share what the world needs to see’, and in return we learn
the stories of lives lost and lives saved, witness tremendous acts of courage, and understand
how faith ensures survival.” Katherine Stansfield
The Reed Flute and I
after Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi
As the reed flute sings you weep your sorrow;
your heart still beats in the place you left. The weight
of your yesterdays that were once tomorrows
halves you, just like the day the reed was cut
pulled from its bed, carved to carry the breath
of the carver to ears held far. Its inhale
is your exhale; as if straight from your own chest.
Its wails redden your eyes. Its larynx speaks your exile.
The same parting that split the reed from its bed
brings you together and you can’t know until
you’ve always known; when they said farewell, you bled
so long, knowing you would not fare well, and still
only long for the place your heart comes from.
Reading in tongues; all music yearns for home.
Previously published as a commended poem in the Troubadour Poetry Competition for 2020
Photographer in Halabja, 17th March 1988.
He shoots everything he sees before him:
families gathered in alleyways,
birds fallen from their nests,
that day in Spring.
In front of steps
the figure of a man rests
wearing Kurdish turban and baggy pants,
a large sash wrapped around his waist,
face down in the dirt,
holding a baby in his arms.
Muted earthy tones around a pink blanket,
a white, glowing face, chin-up to the sky.
holds his camera tight
to capture this perfect still life
of the just-dead.
Hands shake as he takes the parting shot:
newborn face towards the camera.
This exposure burns
his right index finger, his retina.
He’ll share what the world needs to see
though no image can show the pungent air
thick with sweet apple and bile.
No shadow dark enough.
Previously published in Poetry Wales, Spring 2020
It’s no coincidence that he was born in March:
Pisces, romantic who loves to swim,
he’s been called by the government for his services again.
He keeps coming back, no matter how bad it gets.
He loves the rivers and oceans. Despite no-go zones,
barriers and metal nets, he can’t help but return to the Tigris,
and marvel at how she can give and take,
bend and curve, kiss the Euphrates at the Marshes,
cry at what they hold.
Today he holds his breath
in his hands, feels the skin-to-skin connection
as he finds another body. This time with no head.
He loosens it from the Tigris tangles.
Baghdad 2007 has been difficult.
The man with no head
will be buried tomorrow in an unmarked grave
if no family comes for him.
Another lonely Janaza prayer.
Dragged up, it shows hands tied behind the bullet-ridden back.
The diver will probably find his family,
or head, downstream somewhere.
The diver’s own family wants to leave Iraq.
They say he’s a dreamer, tell him there is no hope left,
no point in holding his breath hoping for peace.
But he knows the Tigris has been black and red,
seen much worse than this yet forgives.
Besides, he says, I can hold my breath for a…. very…. long…. time.
Previously published in Prole, Issue 27
The baker kneads and comforts the dough to make this day’s bread
Pats it to a diamond eye, pinches both ends, to shape this day’s bread.
Muezzin calls to each mourner that they’ve been blessed
By the God who is always greater, who gave this day’s bread.
Inner and outer canthi dry of tears the baker sheds.
She loved samoon. From his crushed airway, this day’s bread.
Dormant seed once breathed as wheat, died to give grain’s dust.
His hands knock it back to rise again, this day’s bread.
His fingertips flatten each ball of dough, newborn soft,
Palms lay each one to rest in burning clay, this day’s bread.
It puffs up like chests of angry men, is wrapped in white cloth to stay warm.
Broken just like the breaker, it sighs steam of age, this day’s bread.
Opens to the oath of mint and holy basil. The baker knows
It’s perfumed with the nectar of each sealed fate — this day’s bread.
Previously published in Envoi, Issue 180
Abeer Ameer’s poems have appeared widely in publications including: Acumen, Poetry Wales, Planet and The Rialto. She is a member of poetry performance group, The Spoke. Her debut poetry collection, Inhale/ Exile, in which she shares stories of her Iraqi heritage, was published by Seren in February 2021.
Inhale/Exile is available to purchase from the Seren website.