Tuesday, October 05, 2004

"This nation of ours has got a solemn duty to defeat this ideology of hate. And that's what they are. This is a group of killers who will not only kill here, but kill children in Russia, that'll attack unmercifully in Iraq, hoping to shake our will. We have a duty to defeat this enemy.

We have a duty to protect our children and grandchildren."
- george w. bush, presidential debate, 9/30/2004

"I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are."
- john f. kerry, presidential debate, 9/30/2004


these are just numbers, i think. imaginary things that i'll forget like receipts for groceries or dvd rentals. 1.7 million iraqi dead thanks to US sanctions. over 14,000 iraqi dead in our war. no split open faces, no organ trails, no faded pictures of children tucked in jacket pockets, no goodbye songs of baghdad, no smell of maggots. just numbers, digits half-blurred on a thin slip of paper with a space for our signature at the bottom.

casualty is too casual a word, it's a polished little bowtie that should be ripped out of the dictionary and tossed into a furnace. and while we're at it: get rid of the word "revolution" too. it's a carcass out of word now that should cut open with a blade, chewed on it ferociously, and buried it in the pit of our gut.

jean baudrillard told us that the gulf war never happened... he has a point: how can we know the war is true if the means that inform us are filtered and spun. all we have are little televisions with face-lifts, blips and bloops that claim to be live, transmissions scripted and rehearsed, satellites that let us imagine ourselves there at the spot, the world as our bedrooms.

i feast on salt and fat, shiny thick chunks of white, while the rest of the world nibbles on hair and bone, and i didn't bother to wonder why, i skipped on the check and walked on home.

a beirut ghazal
haas h. mroue

a night. a man. a city.
they slashed the eggplant vendor's throat.

a little city by the sea dragged to insanity.
a mutilated arm lies on the beach.

her streets are eyes, her sea a grave.
her moon guides the dead to their destiny.

in the land of black smoke there is no room for self pity.
no one will rise from the ashes of your dead children.

in the sweltering heat what do they drink?
a cool pitcher of blood and sweat and honey.

and in the end what is left? the woman with no
arm running down deserted streets.

preparing for occupation
by elmaz abi-nader

buy only short books, ones that read quickly with plots
you can keep track of when the pounding starts on the door.
drive no nails into the wall, no pictures, no pencil sharpener
or mirror. your face doesn't matter any way. you are no one.

teach your children at home. or leave them idle to wander
the streets to find a funeral parade; a crowd to join.
use only votive candles so they can burn out before morning.
stash your cigarettes in your pocket. leave nothing
in the cupboards to remind them but a child's toy.

adopt no pets. hook up no phones. print no cards, address
labels or stationery. test your batteries daily.

all your clothes must be light, in similar colors and never need
ironing. your only family heirlooms are habit, memory, name and song. believe that placing your daughter upon your shoulders will be home enough for her as she feels
for something familiar.

avoid meeting the neighbors unless you've known them
since birth. be careful of the bird flirting with you in the yard;
one of you may soon fly away.
one of you has migratory patterns.

you've been here thousands of years. but aren't your people
nomadic anyway? can't you pitch your tent in a grove
on the outskirts? move in with relatives? cross into another
country, clogging the border with shanty towns, waiting
to return? i've seen you together; you prefer to be together.

because this house bears the prints of your children
upon the wall, because the kitchen is furrowed
from your journeys made to the table from the stove,
the stove to the table, because the floor is pocked
from the weight of your davenport, doesn't mean
you can't move on.

the walls have echoed your voices, your sighs floated
up to the ceiling and gathered like clouds in a refugee sky. remember the time your son opened the door so quickly
the bulghur flew off the table and around the room?
grains are in the corners still.

you will miss nothing: the window that refuses to open,
the sputtering light of the refrigerator, the leaking pipe
in the girls' room; the cat that crosses the fence in the morning.
he is not your family although your recognize him.
this is not your town, although you walked its streets
on your wedding day. local water mixes with your blood.
this is not your country despite its dust covering
your shoes, the songs you have memorized; the poets
you claim as your own. don't look down.
look up. when the geese are passing in their vee formation, join them, tuck your treasures under your wings.
from the refugee sky, you can count the bodies below you,
examine the shipwreck of your home while others pick
through the remains.

a lesson in drawing
by nizar qabbani

My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
"... But this is a prison, Father,
Don't you know, how to draw a bird?"
And I tell him: "Son, forgive me.
I've forgotten the shapes of birds."

My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
"Don't you know, Father, the difference between a
wheatstalk and a gun?"
I tell him, "Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheatstalks
armed birds
armed culture
and armed religion
you can't buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can't pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can't buy a book
that doesn't explode between your fingers."

My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
"But this is a tear, father, not a poem!"
And I tell him:
"When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you'll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers."

My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping.