This house is too narrow for all of us to laugh.
Flooded with boredom and haggling over homeware,
is enough space for three generations,
and many types of rodents,
enough space to dream to the heights of meteorites
and reach the throne of Heaven,
not by kicking a football
but by the mosque’s polished domes…
Prayers won’t fail our hands,
rank from splashing in the sewers…
And the neighbors,
an entire ancestry living in 72m2.
They hide their children in tomato paste cans
when a guest tramples down their lives.
I thought their walls must have secret pockets
to store all of their things.
Still we giggled,
guffawed with our school bags
gnawing at the street’s silence
with our wails and chasing after our repetitive lives…
Notes on this poem
Ehab Karim Shghedil was born in 1992 in ‘Revolution City’, a suburban neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad built in 1959 to provide housing for an influx of impoverished newcomers from Iraq’s countryside. Renamed Saddam City in 1982, then Sadr City following the US Invasion in 2003, the district has long been a hotbed of revolutionary activity, especially for the Iraqi Communist Party. On the first two days of October 2019, the neighborhood again found itself at the centre of the burgeoning anti-government protest, as unemployed young Iraqis demanded jobs, basic public services, and an end to corruption. In Baghdad and other southern cities, the central government imposed a curfew, blocked internet access, and dispersed crowds with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. By 7 October, over 100 Iraqis had been killed, the vast majority by Iraqi security personnel, and over 6,000 of the wounded had sought medical treatment.
Shghedil’s poem ‘144m2’, which comes from his 2019 debut collection of the same name, refers to the characteristically small size of the apartments and dwellings in Sadr City, as well as its reputation for producing national football stars, its religiosity, and its denizens’ resilience. ‘When you grow up in a small house with more than twenty of your family members, what can you write about besides your own life?’ Shghedil recently asked us over a late night coffee in Baghdad. As the citizens of Iraq continue to ‘[gnaw] at the street’s silence’ to demand better quality of life, emerging poets like Shghedil offer us a human glimpse into everyday life in neighborhoods like today’s Sadr City.