All beings are one soul, the same way there is only one world
(Araucano’s aborigen song)
Ancient enemies of poetry have not been able to materialize, as they would like, poetry’s extinction.
Going counter way of criteria of those who believe that poetical experience could only be lived in solitude, the mission of the poet is to unleash the poetic genius that resides in the inner human being. Poetry is the rhythm and the encompassed fluid of alive beings, that constitute one body and soul of the world, and its obstinate beat and its shared breath.
The ultimate aspiration of history, politics, religions and philosophy, that buried the mysteries and prehistoric rites in which the heart of the species was beating, is a resonance of the mighty manifestation of the poetry in the origins.
We must relearn the lost language; celebrate existence in massive company; practice the exercise of joining ourselves around the unchaining forces of creative imagination; light and keep the collective soul’s fire to stop the massacre and illuminate the sky of human liberty yet chained to the rock of necessity.
Far from being solitary, poetry’s battle to recuperate us, must strongly gather human beings around the poetical spirit, so it make go back to the unhopeful and war globalization, that searches to annihilate centuries of struggle for liberation, elevation and transformation of life.
We present to you this short selection of poems about the reality of war in the world.
SAY SOMETHING ABOUT CHILD’S PLAY
The soldier asks the boy: choose which
do I cleave?
Your right arm or left?
The boy, ten, maybe nine says: neither
or when I play, like a bird with a broken wing
I will smudge the line of the hopscotch square,
let the darkness in.
The soldier asks again: choose which
do I cleave?
your right leg or left?
Older in this moment than his dead father,
the boy says: neither, or when I dance the spirit dance,
I will stumble, kick sand in the face of light.
This boy, black flame of hope burning against night,
says: take my right eye, it has seen too much,
but leave me the left, I will need it to see God.
Chris Abani (Nigeria)
THE WAR WORKS HARD
How magnificent the war is!
Early in the morning,
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places,
swings corpses through the air,
rolls stretchers to the wounded,
from the eyes of mothers,
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins…
Some are lifeless and glistening,
others are pale and still throbbing…
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children,
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky,
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters,
urges families to emigrate,
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire).
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers,
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.
Dunya Mikhail (Iraq)
happened in Ramallah, nothing
happened in Jenin. Only
and smashed computers. Only
money, jewellery, painfully
saved for years, ripped out of
hiding holes, children’s clothes
tipped out of drawers, drenched
in powerful jets
of IDF urine.
Let’s hear from that ‘man of peace’, Sharon.
Palestinians are beasts on two legs
and beasts are meant to be
Let’s hear from the young Israeli soldiers:
It’s easy for you to judge us
from New York, San Francisco –
take your filthy cameras, your prying
horrified eyes, take
your hearts that bleed for nothing –
we are defending our country and this
is a war.
happened in Ramallah, nothing
happened in Jenin. Only young men
street by street
rounded up, stripped, rifle-whipped,
only the occasional smashed
and be grateful we didn’t kill you, filth.
Only young men, house by house, street
by street, swallowed into
the night, only
women left crying
in the ruins of
bulldozed homes, only voices
from under the rubble on dying cellphones
in god’s name anyone in the world
if you can hear us send us help
Only bodies tumbled
like urine-soaked clothes in the
hospital corridors as the lights
flickered and (pop)
only graves dug by lacerated hands
in parking lots –
and you wonder: Did Palestinians
how Jewish bodies buried
unbagged, in Buchenwald, Theresienstadt
swelled with gas and exploded
out of the ground?
But that just goes to show
Likud is right, West
Bank invaders are right, they are
a dirty illiterate people
carpet bomb them into fertilizer
happened in Ramallah, nothing
happened in Jenin. Only ambulances
halted at checkpoints, laden with useless
blood, only aid workers pleading
to bring in food and water, only
nosy journalists, misguided
UN observers held at gunpoint, denied
There’s nothing to see!
while Colin Powell cruised
through Egypt and Morocco,
one hand over his eyes, another
over his mouth, dates
stuffed in his ears, a 3-monkey
ensemble at Jerusalem banquets, Powell
heard no evidence of massacre, Powell
saw no need to visit
the West Bank, Powell
Geneva Convention, International
Declaration of Human Rights, seventy-
five UN resolutions violated
by Israel since 1967, because
don’t you see? NOTHING!!
happened in Ramallah, nothing
happened in Jenin, Powell
saw no evidence and we are all
Shailja Patel (Kenya)
I explode I
blow up I
and (as with all TRUE explosions) when the fire dies I
I’m most strong like a bomb for only a split second then I
am nothing but a dying destructive force
Slave to my own imminent loss of form
Bringing destruction to the long lasting structures I am jealous of
Only as they stand the largest with the hardest substance while I am over in a second
I AM DA BOMB
I perceive soft targets I
hit with quick pain so only survivors remain and maintain a hatred of me
me DA BOMB
Coz I don’t take that long to kill a beautiful song that has sung on for centuries I
was invented for these moments of turning off the on switches to “hit dis”
the symbolic pride of an absurd race I
DA BOMB was invented by these monkeys who would rule in the trees overall
Above all to see any and all opposition fall
I DA BOMB
in my short life have destroyed the joy of long life
destroyed the joy with my boyish hate for creation as I
relish the ease of destruction I
DA BOMB who will not live long but will not let live anyone I meet I
The sweet quick option
born to stop shit
dropped to kill
Landscapes are throats and I
the bitter pill I
the bang of a balloon popping multiplied by the cries of children stopping I
the bang of buildings breaking become the rumble of stumbling feet I
Who never had my own song but was born from an unsung soul as I
separate my whole into my separate fragments as I
penetrate with pain
Violent fury growing stagnant as the dust settles I
as a blood stain I
am ended I
DA BOMB I
have lived once again I
AM DA BOMB
Ewok (South Africa)
No, it wasn’t a punishment for harboring Talibani
on your eastern slopes or even in your capital city.
No, it wasn’t a punishment for allowing the American
government to dictate the terms of anti-terrorism.
It was the reign of the rains, pure and simple water
because the clouds are sick of all the rot in the world,
all the abuse of women, the trafficking of them and kids,
the eyes of porn, the sperm-oil spurts of dead men
enslaved to perpetual indifference, the hunger that looks
out of the eyes of children for food, understand?
Food is what we’re yelling for in your ears, we’re starving
and a volcano’s going to erupt, a tsunami’s rearing up,
the earth’s quaking under us, fires spreading over our land,
monsoon, typhoon in the last years of this katun: we’re starving
and only water can save us, and it’s killing us! It’s flooding
and drowning us, soaking down to our soul, O undersea,
O undersea sons
Where is the whale that can drink this whole flood, this
oil of the blood and the flames of this war-sick world,
in the immense cave of whose belly, we will have to live
until we re-learn the alphabet of the future from scratch?
All our gods have failed.
Peace is the only one left.
Jack Hirschman (USA)
POEMS FOR PALESTINE
There I lay bleeding to death in Jenin
Under the rubble
In palpable darkness I heard someone pray
For the birth pangs of Palestine
To come to an end
So they may emerge from the rubble to walk with their loved ones
In peace in their sacred land
We who daily defy death
In the hands of those who seek medals
Calculate every move
Every second everyday
I was deaf in Ramallah
For three days
From sounds of mortar and bombs
My house a pile of stones
With splatters of my children’s blood
I do not know whether you tried to call me
I also wondered if Yasser Arafat was alright
Today even he pays the pipe
Calls for the new song
Let us go to the Bush
To contemplate our next move!
Who will understand me when I Will my own death
And take with me to judgement the murderers of my soul?
I said to my love:
” Tomorrow I am going to die forgive””
I will bury you on our sacred soil” she said
“No” I told her
“I will bury myself on every stone
And blade of grass
Every leaf of every tree in Palestine
After the explosion of our bodies”
I am here with you O! Mouin Beseiso
Oh! You Fatima and Leila and Mahmoud
I report for new duties in this world of fluid boundaries
I am A Palestinian
I am a martyr
When little children die from Israeli shrapnels
Under falling walls of their homes
From mortar and bombs
Green trees begin to burn
And giant green flames consumes our humanity
But it is the silence of the world that is more deadly!
He who walks the rubble filled streets
Picking up fragments of children of the pets
Pieces of flesh
Has every reason to be angry
Every reason to want to kill
Every reason to want to blow the world to bits
Every reason to doubt everything
I write poems to retain my hope
To fuel my anger
To contemplate the next move
For the re-birth of Palistine!
Palestine, Groin Of your Wounds
O! Daughter’s of Palestine!
Sons of Palestine!
Like you I have known raids at dawn
Dodged torrents of bullets
At home and abroad
On street corners and in my dreams
I have seen bullet-driven bodies of comrades
Sisters and brothers
Young and old carried high in nights meant for love
O! Sons of Palestine!
Daughters of Palestine!
Was I not there in Tal-Alazar?
Your Nablus is my Soweto and Sharpeville!
Your Jillon my Boiphatong!
Your Gaza my Makhutha!
We too boast of many Sabras and Shatilas
We tease bullets lodged in our hearts
And in the retinas of our eyes
Yet still carry the vision of a free land!
Like you I have seen blood where no wounds were
We who rose against the nocturnal beasts
Who glory in death
Hunted across borders
Betrayed by our own supported by cousins of those who kill us
Died slipping on bars of soap in prison cells
Died drowning in basins in our prison cells
We have seen strange things in our times
Now ride on the crest of a wave of freedom in our land
You too will ride the robust wave in our own land
Let us stand together
Compare our wounds our pains
Our defiance, our dreams
Our love of freedom and peace
You too will live to sing new songs
In your land
Free At last !!!!
As we enter the season of new beginning
We sing / we dance/ we remember
Those who sang and danced for us
When the darkness walked our land
And tears were water to quench our parched throats
Till our dawns brightened with the rising of hope
We will to those who fought
For us to live beyond
We children embraced by Ukhahlamba
Flanked by the yelping blue sea
We children who have learnt to dance
With grace of gazelles and antelopes
With ferocity of the big five
With gentleness of young springbok
Come sing and dance with us
To the rhythm of a new song
A song of new beginnings
Pitika Ntuli (Suráfrica)
She dices the onions finely.
A construction worker, 25, falls to his death.
She adds the coriander, cloves and ginger.
A soldier, 21, walks over a roadside bomb.
She removes the meatballs from the fridge
A journalist, 43, gets shot thru the head.
She stirs the sauce over a low fire
and adds a few tears to the pot.
November 2, 2006
Lola Koundakjian (Armenia)
THE RIGHT WORD
Outside the door,
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.
Is that the wrong description?
Outside that door,
taking shelter in the shadows,
is a freedom fighter.
I haven’t got this right .
Outside, waiting in the shadows,
is a hostile militant.
Are words no more
than waving, wavering flags?
Outside your door,
watchful in the shadows,
is a guerrilla warrior.
God help me.
Outside, defying every shadow,
stands a martyr.
I saw his face.
No words can help me now.
Just outside the door,
lost in shadows,
is a child who looks like mine.
One word for you.
Outside my door,
his hand too steady,
his eyes too hard
is a boy who looks like your son, too.
I open the door.
Come in, I say.
Come in and eat with us.
The child steps in
and carefully, at my door,
takes off his shoes.
Imtiaz Dharker (India)
On the side walk, patches of people
In the day, they are like rice grains
along the roadways,
and at night,
they wallpaper lame bodies
in the draft darkness
of the broken city.
Crowds of war returnees,
waiting for nothing,
day after day,
waiting for nothing,
after refugee camp,
after their former cities
spewed them out like dirt,
after wandering the globe.
After death’s passing,
they have returned
looking like returnees
from the dead.
The city is hot, burning like steel
The air used to belong to us here
one woman said,
there used to be a road
to take us back home.
Today, the road homeward is now lost
The road to Cape Palmas, filled
with dry bones.
But on the street,
a motorcade is coming.
Someone is living.
Someone is living on these bones
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia)
PEACE BROKE OUT
Peace broke out
scattered its light like sun’s rays rising
wrapped itself around the earth
in words and stories and songs and prayers
in mosques and cathedrals and caves and trees
and rocks and mountains
in an assortment of noses, lips
strands of hair
shades or skin or eye
the many that blended into one medley
when someone said why aren’t they like us?
and rancor rose in tantrums
rolled and spun and twisted the world
rocked it back and forth
Till Mother Peace called out loud and strong
why do you tear me apart, my children?
I, an anthem assembled from countless single notes?
I will remind you one more time
that I, Peace, am not an accident
But a unity of accidental pieces
Daniel Kunene (South Africa)
JOURNEY AND A HALF
Have you ever been ordered to strip
In front of a thousand shouting eyes
Forced to lie on your back
With your feet astride
Allowing your vagina to be inspected
By somebody whom you’ve never seen before?
Imagine lying on your back
On an empty stomach
On top of angry biting ants
On hot dry African sand
And asked to imitate love-making
Have you ever stayed awake
Thousands of thoughts in one night
Crying out loudly without a voice?
Asked to bark like a wild dog
Or laugh like a hyena
Beaten on your buttocks until they
Turned to red meat?
“The truth from a comrade comes from the buttocks!”
A famous interrogation slogan
It happened in the liberation camp prisons
We have come a long way
And we still have a journey and half
Freedom Nyamubaya (Zimbabwe)
THE NANNIES ARE COMING!
What do the tanks know dreaming
at night under a full moon or none?
Idle in their slots, they desire parades
Their devices are in intact; such pure
dreams of catastrophe, their visions of
coughing up shells, their swivel heads
scattering birds into the darkness.
And they are easy in their rest, they
purr in earnest. As prams they are
remodelled for nestling under the
Acropolis, strolling the esplanade
in Rio. Let it be said: the nannies
are coming! They’ve caught on.
They are moving into the emptied
streets of our cities. Look–how they
glow under the greatcoats of our
generals, making hard invasions
to the centre of our sleep. They
polish their treads under the dark
in yards of iron. Collecting landscapes
to whine through, they hum themselves
to sleep; and they are counting people.
Michael Harlow (Nueva Zelanda)
Yes, I do not conceal it from you
I say it: I’m scared!
Of all anthems you sing
Elixirs vomited noisily
I’m scared of your flags
cracking in the wind of your madness
To you I confess my fear
I’m scared of your erected tents
Sparse in the flowered gardens
I’m scared of your adult games
In the pedestrian corridors
I know that one day
You will shoot me!
Yes, I confess my fear
I’m scared of your gloved hands
Hiding numerous cactus
I’m scared when a child
Claims for life in his cold cradle
I’m scared when he shows ecstasy
I know that one day
You will shoot him!
Adamou Idé (Niger)
AFTER THE COUP
There are those who have no grace to fall from
buried already in landslides moonslides
and seaslides of collective pronouns:
‘we the people’, we fertilize the day
for sowers whose hands brim with maize
from the silo of tomorrow’s famine
we are those who have no grace to fall from
trapped by time and overrun by rented mobs
‘we the people’, carried famously
through gunsmoke by dawn broadcasts
we hallow public squares to welcome
the Generals who bend stalk away
from the seeding rains of July,
the silo of tomorrow’s harvest,
and the stock of fate in unanswered prayers
we are those who have no grace to fall from
blitzed by hurrahs for the roads never built
for old streets renamed where to rename
is to open history to stock and barrel
which shall be renamed again to humour us
‘we the people’, journeying without maps
we journey towards maps
bled by Generals in tanks
in a herohood of the unforgetting
ah! beloved Generals dreaming of manifestoes
you who turn cornrows into a field of flags
green and white flags hoisted with gunsmoke
you turn the field into abbattoirs of words,
big, grating words planted in tantrums
of iron hooves growing more than wheat or yams
beloved generals more eloquent than manifestoes
you are the sheep lionized by suppliant grass
where your mindcuffs guard our houses of hunger
before every cockrow and before anvils speak,
ripping the loincloth of dreams from inspired flesh,
your mindcuffs braid a dance ahead of the muezin
– sentinels of the dark whose footsteps are slogans
– sentinels of the dark whose acres forbid whistles
– sentinels of the dark whose birds do not fly
your mornings speak of masquerades returning
ancestors returning as abikus seduced by mendalions
your mornings seethe with banners and brave fables
dripping with fat to nail stomachs to dank walls
your mornings rehearse amnesia in fiestas and blazes
where our dreams brave gunsmoke to fertilize time
Odia Ofeimun (Nigeria, 1950)
SPRINGTIME BEHIND THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE
Silence in the slaughterhouse.
No killing going on.
The cleaned-up hooks and rails without
A single joint thereon.
Behind the silent slaughterhouse
I hear the nightingales sing.
Alone, the only meathead
By the birdcherries in spring.
1976 Translated by R.Caddel
Note: in Estonian, to send someone to listen to nightingales is to kill them.
Andres Ehin (Estonia)
HOMAGE TO A DEAD CHILD
These swamps where the dead roam,
outraged, fleeing from our beastly names;
they narrow their eyes and turn their faces away,
fearful of what we bring them this time of anomie.
Talking of offerings, the old trees bleed,
big dollops of blood in the toxic sun, but
the pain in their trunks was from our fire ,
not those mishaps to make graft hybrids;
which is why, inveterate men of anarchy,
our best results are these sanitariums, where
the souls leap and rage each minute our voices
ring out, and bring disbelief to their heads ,
tempting some to ask whether God was beardless,
when our demonic appetite rose a bestial curse.
Sex slaves, un-onanist orgies, and outraged guttural ancestors:
these images, sacrilegious by themselves, do not compare
with you nameless child, tragic innocent who
was the only candelabrum in this tenebrous age.
I try to forget the hand that dealt the child armless,
sleep with a glass of wine, fearful of his voice,
but it is only to see his face at century’s end,
showing us up the curse of a continent.
Being human was only a cup away from our lips,
which was not too much for God to ask of us,
so I dare not imagine his misery when the rain falls
on his immature grave, although I need his watery gaze
to learn how he died, after we refused to be human?
Having lost my speech over this carnage,
all I have are these tears, which are also my brothers’,
to decussate these murderous priests,
before I embark on that road wet with the grief
of a mother screaming how the stone fell on her breasts.
Amongst the Dead, a mother searched for her child.
Innocent, no girl had kissed him; his heart was fragile
when the day selected him. His soul was crushed
that morning, mother _ You were there to hear his cry
as he waited for the stone to give him a number.
Gem, you are too much a desired woman
after the dawn washed you up in that sky-blue river.
Was that why they wanted the child? This blood on the stone
was much too hot for his mother to cradle his arms.
Cursed stone, trollop, turn your face to the sun,
to see his mother there; that lunatic asking
who were the men who saw a new world on the stones,
and sent the dead marching alongside the maimed?
Crystal in their hearts, those men showed her
the stones: alluvial, mined, lapidary and polished.
But what is the father’s name to give to this madness,
when only the old women too weary to care about
the colour of the sun are left to remember the name
after they took the child screaming to receive the stone?
Goodbye, innocent child, I know where it hurts your mother
talking to the sun, after it shone the stone on your flesh.
Rain, which has the noise of her bleeding heart,
cannot wash away our season of anarchy,
nor make the gemstones responsible for these crimes.
Oh Dead so voluble in your posthumous innocence
give me your song, your antiphony that stymied this cruel day.
Our gluttony was perverse, stone that ate your flesh.
In that vista where you reclaim your hands, let it not be with forgiveness
but in rage, our eyes watery and red from your peppery lips
when hearing your thunderous voice we shall learn how to remake
this country, cursed gem, whose heart we rip open day by day.
Syl Cheney-Coker (Sierra Leone)
BEFORE the season of the Bayonet
there was the season of the Hoe
a season of the soul’s harvest:
We grew wonder-eyed standing
humbled before the miracle
of the giant Oak locked deep
down within the tinniest mystery seed.
In those seasons of our Soul’s Harvest
there were such fires in our eyes.
Our spirits floered and petalled
into hues of faintest rainbows
offering new and newer images
of dreams we could with ten fingers
mould into things and thoughts and hopes.
THEN they came with BullDozers.
And then the ArmouredCars dressed in camouflage.
NOW we plant grenades in backyard farms
in showers of Bullets and FirePower.
They pick our flesh on Bayonets.
Across cold muzzles of Guns
They break our sleep in two
Give one half to CannonBlast
Toss one half into silence deeper
Than Volcano’s bleeding core.
There will be showers at SunRise
And storms at SunDrown.
Bones shall sprout up tendrils more verdant
Than the loveliest GreenMamba.
Rivulets of venom shall water our fields
Restoring this soil to ancestral Fertile Time.
Kofi Anyidoho (Ghana)
The room shivers
from distant explosions
The curtains shiver.
Then the heart shivers.
Why are you in the midst of all this shivering?
Saadi Yousif (Irak)
I EMERGED FROM THE WAR INADVERTENTLY
I am emerging from the age of betrayals
Toward noble weeping for a verdant dream
Sown by pigs and vermin
I am entering the orbit of the poem
Half free and half chained.
It is for you to lament me, with you hired mourners
I need do nothing but point
With Na’ilah’s severed fingers,
Toward the country’s cloak, saluted by gunshots,
And draped upon tribal spears.
The bloody Euphrates will seep
Through your fingers
When you write
“All that the poets write is in vain.”
For this age teaches us
To applaud murderers
When they cross the pavement into our blood,
And this age teaches us
That we must dwarf our statures
…So that the winds may pass easily over us,
That we must follow the herd
Toward the sesonal pasture.
From amidst the wreckage born out of the cannons,
I raise my palm, covered with blood-drenched dust
Before the eyes of the age.
I teach it how we etch our names with fingernails
To ignite the word “No”.
We who have emerged from the barracks,
We scatter the metropolitan flies from our wounds.
Can we be mistaken – when the huge trucks pass us by –
About the number of martyrs who left in the company of bombs,
About the numbers of friends…
Who passed in battle lines
The wounded poem has not yet healed – but I
Do not mistake the bitter pain
When we come to the terror of mothers
Who, nailed to the pavement at depots,
Ask those going to the war
To take their long maternal nights
As tearful kerchiefs to bind up the distance
Between bullet and supplication.
Mothers who defy years’ patience
Before empty beds
In the military hospitals…(spreading the sheets of the departed
On wind-swept ropes to dry them for those who will come
…Where shall we go with our lives – still young
I will stifle this scream in my throat
While you take your breakfast of the daily news and tea.
I write about a moon that will come
And a cloud that traversed our wheat
To perch on our wounds.
I stroke your pains
To pass like a line of my poem
Threading my heart through the passageways.
I tailor the cloak of exile to the size of your sorrows
Leaving behind the blood from my cloak of kisses,
As my witness and my evidence
Before the writer of justice.
I have not been defeated
Nor have I fled — like my cousins’ horses –
from the battlefield.
Between me and the bullets there is my truthfulness,
And this poem, with its voice hoarse
From too much hurrying through the trenches,
Screams in terror and bewilderment:
— Stop beating these drums!
Who will erase now from the vault of my memory
The images of friends who have passed in the postage of the battle
Without a flower or slumber,
Leaving nothing behind but the address of my heart.
Friends who have lost the path
To their tears and homes,
Friends of the bombs.
I have grown old before my time.
Haven’t you seen my lungs, blackened by slogans not tobacco?
Haven’t you seen my back, humched beneath the steps of those
heading for trophies?
Oh… what my heart conceals!
Oh… What newspapers and girls reveal (girls who hustle the
lover’s pulse to the lift of the elegant apartment)…
Greetings to the country of wheat
Greetings to the country of streams
Greetings to my country which, whenever besieged by bombs
Carries its wound as a banner for struggle
And took arms against the Romans
The only Romans are our own countrymen, who thurst
Their treacherous blades in our backs
On my lips is a withered tree, and the Euphrates, which passed
by, did not quench my thirst; behind me is the barking of the
barren wars launched by the general on our flesh, though we elude
the wars’ teeth and shrapnel which combed our childrens hair
before they left for school and roses; I run, I run, through the
forest of death, collecting the kindling of those who departed in
the autumn of battles and left me alone behind them lika a sad
star; lifting up the edge of my robe with my teeth as I run, I
dodge my death between bullets and martyrs; I am a poet whose life
has been eaten by words, so how am I to arrange these letters and
launch a sentence without letting my heart slip – in confusion –
from my tongue and exploding a land mine? I run, run, and my heart
goes out to my country – where will it bury its sons? The earth
is smaller than my mother’s tears; from my child’s skin, I shake
out the bullets and he gathers them in the flour bin; winds pass
over my heart strings and sorrow of the meadows resonates;
butterflies pass over our wounds and then fly to the flowers; oh
trees, whose boughs have taught us to sprout branches of our pain
for the spring which will come so that the jasmine may open its
windows. If only the jasmine and my heart would be reasonable!
She shelters herself in his coat – when the aircraft pass overhead
–she feels … his pulse bursting forth like a garden, touching
the corona which was trembling under his wet shirt: — I love…
you! Sirens interrupt her and the kisses were scattered about on
the grass, plowed by the vermin to the end of the jasmine and my
sorrow; we drape the remains of anger on the hook of war; as night
slopes toward the serene houses in the evening of obscurity and
bitter lillies, birds lean toward the roofs of the warehouses; a
flock of cranes hurries to my soul’s spring; tomorrow in a morning
without aircraft, we will run beneath a drizzle of violets, melded
together, wandering among the streets and the bubblings, we’ll
stroke the fountains’ hair, I’ll remember that your hands love to
doze in my hands, and we’ll grow; does the field grow from a flower
or from your hands? I’ll see what I see of lifes craziness on her
chest, my soul roaming like larks, I’ll gather the flowers from her
clothes and the meadows which have been harvested by shrapnel;
honey pours from the lips’ error, intoxicating me: was I wrong to
love? The passageway that enclosed us beneath the shade of the
pine trees remembers how my heart crawled unwittingly to your chest
–have I drunk too much? – don’t delude me that you are warmer
than the land, this country is only a bomb away from your vein; oh
you bird, exiled between dictionaries, we measure life by the bomb
which passed over our wearisome patience as we shoot down the
unnecessary shrapnel to wear as a shirt of impossible joy; is it
wrong that we love life?
Adnan Al Sayegh (Iraq)
Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone,
And the interrogation will not die
For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing underneath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee –
There is no covenant between your God and me.
It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin,
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.
This is your fault.
This is a crusader vault.
The Brook of Kidron flows from Mea She’arim.
I will pray for you.
I will tell you what to do.
I’ll stone you. I shall break your every limb.
Oh I am not afraid of you
But maybe I should fear the things you make me do.
This is not Golgotha.
This is the Holy Sepulchre,
The Emperor Hadrian’s temple to a love
Which he did not much share.
Golgotha could be anywhere.
Jerusalem itself is on the move.
It leaps and leaps from hill to hill
And as it makes its way it also makes its will.
The city was sacked.
Jordan was driven back.
The pious Christian burned the Jews alive.
This is a minaret.
I’m not finished yet.
We’re waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
What was your mother’s real name?
Would it be safe today to go to Bethlehem?
This is the Garden Tomb.
No, this is the Garden Tomb.
I’m an Armenian. I am a Copt.
This is Utopia.
I came here from Ethiopia.
This hole is where the flying carpet dropped
The Prophet off to pray one night
And from here one hour later he resumed his flight.
Who packed your bag?
I packed my bag.
Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?
Have you ever met an Arab?
Yes I am a scarab.
I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.
I cry impure from street to street
And see my degradation in the eyes I meet.
I am your enemy.
This is Gethsemane.
The broken graves look to the Temple Mount.
Tell me now, tell me when
When shall we all rise again?
Shall I be first in that great body count?
When shall the tribes be gathered in?
When, tell me, when shall the Last Things begin?
You are in error.
This is terror.
This is your banishment. This land is mine.
This is what you earn.
This is the Law of No Return.
This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.
This is my history, this my race
And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.
Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone.
These are the warrior archaeologists.
This is us and that is them.
This is Jerusalem.
These are the dying men with tattooed wrists.
Do this and I’ll destroy your home.
I have destroyed your home. You have destroyed my home.
James Fenton (United Kingdom)
CIVILIAN AND SOLDIER
My apparition rose from the fall of lead,
Declared, ‘I am a civilian.’ It only served
To aggravate your fright. For how could I
Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.
You stood still
For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson
Of your traing sessions, cautioning –
Scorch earth behind you, do not leave
A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration
Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth
From the lead festival of your more eager friends
Worked the worse on your confusion, and when
You brought the gun to bear on me, and death
Twitched me gently in the eye, your plight
And all of you came clear to me.
I hope some day
Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked
In stride by your apparition in a trench,
Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then
But I shall shoot you clean and fair
With meat and bread, a gourd of wine
A bunch of breasts from either arm, and that
Lone question – do you friend, even now, know
What it is all about?
Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)
Just to go for a walk out the road
under the deep trees
which whisper of peace
To break the bread of words
with someone passing
four of us round a pram
and baby fingers asleep
Just to join the harmony
the fields the blue
the puddles of daylight and
you might hear a pheasant
echo through the woods
or plover may waver by
as the evening poises
with a blackbird
on its table of hedge
and here and there a gate
a bungalow’s bright window
the smell of woodsmoke of lives
but Sweet Christ that
is more than most of mankind can afford
with the globe still plaited in its own
crown of thorns
too many starving eyes
too many ancient children
squatting among flies
too many stockpiles of fear
too many dog jails too many generals
too many under torture by the impotent
screaming into the air we breathe
too many dreams stuck in money jams
too many mountains of butter selfishness
too many poor drowning in the streets
too many shantytowns on the outskirts of life
too many of us not sure what we want
so that we try to feed a habit for everything
until the ego puppets the militaries
mirror our own warring face
too little peace.
Desmond Egan (Ireland)