Poetry Sunday: “Mutanabbi Steet, Baghdad,” by Julie Bruck

Mutanabbi Steet, Baghdad

On a pile of bricks, someone had left a pink plastic
flower, a pair of glasses, and a book with crisp, white
pages. They glowed in the black debris of Mutanabbi Street.
This is his shoe! a man cried out, I bought it for him.
It was Friday, 9:06 a.m. The man was slim, with peppery hair
and square, grey-tinted glasses. He clutched a black chunk
of leather melted by the heat. I bought it for him.
He kissed the piece of leather, placed it gently
next to the flower, the eyeglasses and the book.
Come and see it, he yelled to five men carefully
digging through debris. It’s his size.
This is your shoe, he yelled to the pale blue sky.
My son, I bought it for you. The six men, all relatives,
were hunting for a teenager’s remains. The boy had been
shopping for notebooks on Mutanabbi Street, named
for a 10th-century poet. They had been digging since
Wednesday, morning till night. The men stared blankly
at the shoe. No-one had the heart to speak, so they kept
digging. Don’t step so hard, the father said.
Don’t harm him.


First published in Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi, eds. (PM Press). From Monkey Ranch (Brick Books 2012) and published with permission of the author.


Julie Bruck’s latest collection is Monkey Ranch (Brick Books), which received the 2012  Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry. Previous books are The End of Travel (1999) and The Woman Downstairs (1993). Brick Books will publish her fourth collection in 2018. Recent poems have appeared in Plume, The New Yorker, The Rusty Toque, Hazlitt, The Puritan, The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day, and Best Canadian Poetry in English. A longtime Montrealer, Julie lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. Monkey Ranch is available in the U.S. here and in Canada here.


Poet’s Note

This poem was my contribution to Beau Beausoleil’s ongoing project to remember the 2007 car bombing of Baghdad’s street of booksellers at the historic center of that city’s literary and intellectual community. The project included an anthology, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi, eds. (PM Press), available here. The poem is adapted from a Washington Post story by Sudarsan Raghavan. Along with other journalists including the late Anthony Shadid, he bore stunning witness to the toll of war on the people of Iraq. Artist Carol Todaro’s limited edition broadside of this poem was printed as part of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, a large broadside collection digitized at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts website. These collaborative broadsides have been shown worldwide, with proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders, and a complete set was given to the Iraq National Library and Archive in Baghdad. A few prints are still available at juliebruck.com

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  • Meryl Natchez April 1, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    It’s so hard to write a moving poem about this kind of tragedy, but Julie Bruck manages it! Thank you for posting.

  • JUDY BROWN May 21, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Dear Becky,
    I’m enjoying my Sundays even more. Thanks for sharing these amazing poets. This is heartbreak and love.


  • Ramona Howard May 21, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    This poem brings to mind the Dudley Randall poem, “The Ballad of Birmingham,” about the bombing of an African-American Baptist church by the KKK in Burmingham, Alabama in 1963, where four young black girls were killed. Rebecca, you are right when you say some events are “unspeakable.” Words cannot express the pain of the loss of a child, nor can we understand why there is such passion in some people to force their singular beliefs on the rest of us through any means.

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. May 21, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Dear Becky,
    There is a reason that we invite you and your chosen poets into our homes and hearts on Sunday. This heartbreaking meditation on “unspeakable” loss will remain in my book of memories forever.