In Her Feminine Sign
A Poetry Book Society Wild Card Selection Autumn 2019
A brilliant poetic exploration of language and gender, place and time, through the mirror of exile.
At the heart of Dunya Mikhail’s luminous new collection of poems, her fourth in English, is the Arabic suffix ta-marbuta, “the tied circle,” a circle with two dots above it that determines a feminine word, or sign. This tied circle transforms into the moon, a stone that binds friendship, birdsong over ruins, three kidnapped women, and a hymn to Nisaba, the goddess of writing. A section of “Iraqi haiku” unfold like shimmering translations of carved Sumerian symbols on clay tablets. These tablets later transform into the digital tablets we carry to Mars. In another poem, Mikhail ponders the Sumerian word for “freedom,” Ama-ar-gi, “what seeps out / from the dead into our dreams.”
In Her Feminine Sign follows on the heels of Mikhail’s devastating account of Daesh kidnappings and killings of Yazidi women in Iraq, The Beekeeper of Sinjar. It is the first book she has written in both Arabic and English, not translated but “twice-written,” as she says: “The poet at home in both texts, yet she remains a stranger.”
With a deceptive simplicity and disquieting humour reminiscent of Wislawa Szymborszka, and a lyricism wholly her own, Mikhail slips between her childhood in Baghdad and her present life in Detroit, between Ground Zero and a mass grave, between a game of chess and a flamingo, tracing new circles of light.