Dunya Mikhail’s life straddles the divide of exile. It’s a divide reflected in the structure of her celebrated memoir, “Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea.” She published the first half in her native Iraq in 1995, but the deteriorating political climate soon forced her to leave. She picked up her story from abroad, in the United States, free but still yearning. “In the first part, I could not say everything I remembered,” she writes. “In the second part, I could not remember everything I wanted to say.”

It’s a remarkable, winding work that ascends into dream visions and crawls through gory particulars of war. A child’s perspective mingles freely with the poet’s mature voice, both baffled by the paradoxes of so much beauty and so much destruction.

Toward the end, safe in the United States, Mikhail writes:

I found a new soap with a wonderful refreshing scent,

Dunya Mikhail (Courtesy of New Directions)

but it still couldn’t wash away the smell of gunpowder.

I am sorry I left you among the ruins.

I am sorry I left without saying goodbye.

I apologize to my new home, for carrying the ruins with me.

I apologize for not being able to be in two places at once.

I apologize to the war for avoiding its nightmares

by turning my face to the wall.

I apologize to the sirens

for preferring the sound of music

and the rhythm of water fountains.

I apologize for running to lose weight

instead of running to escape explosions.

I have left my friends, too

busy for their sufferings.

Life continues behind their backs.

I am sorry. Away from you,

I look at the blue spaces between skyscrapers

in the America of lottery tickets,

credit cards, and fast food.

I leave you

and I love you.

Mikhail was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing in 2001, and she now teaches at Oakland University in Michigan.

On March 2, Mikhail will be my next guest in the Life of a Poet series, co-sponsored by the Library of Congress, the Hill Center and The Washington Post.

This series, which is underwritten by National Capital Bank, offers a chance to consider a poet’s entire career during an hour-long conversation. In addition to asking Mikhail about her experiences in Iraq and the United States, I’ll invite her to read from her three books available in English: “Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea,” “The Iraqi Nights” and “The War Works Hard.” The event will be followed by a reception, where Mikhail’s books will be offered for sale.

The event is free and open to the public, and you can register online at hillcenterdc.org to reserve seats at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington (two blocks from the Eastern Market Metro stop on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines). Come early and enjoy a light snack at the Bayou Bakery in the adjacent carriage house.

Call 202-549-4172 or contact me for details.

Ron Charles is the editor of Book World. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.

Videos of previous Life of a Poet conversations:

Edward Hirsch

Carl Phillips

Mary Szybist