Ashur Square, Mosul
It begins simply with a fist, white-knuckled
and tight, glossy with sweat. With two eyes
in a rearview mirror watching for a convoy.
The curve of her hip where I'd lay my head,
that's what I'm thinking of now, her fingers
gone slow through my hair on a blue day
ten thousand miles off in the future somewhere,
To yield force to is an act of necessity, not of will;
it is at best an act of prudence.
There is this ringing hum this
bullet-borne language ringing
shell-fall and static this late-night
ringing of threadwork and carpet ringing
hiss and steam this wing-beat
of rotors and tanks broken
bodies ringing in steel humming these
voices of dust these years ringing
rifles in Babylon rifles in Sumer
ringing these children their gravestones
and candy their limbs gone missing their
static-borne television their ringing
this eardrum this rifled symphonic this
ringing of midnight in gunpowder and oil this
brake pad gone useless this muzzle-flash singing this
threading of bullets in muscle and bone this ringing
hum this ringing hum this
The 107s have a crackling sound
of fire and electricity, of air-ruckled heat,
and when they pinwheel over the rooftops
of Hamman al Alil
they just keep going,
traveling for years over the horizon
to land in the meridians of Divisadero Street,
where I'm standing early one morning
on a Memorial Day in Fresno, California,
the veteran's parade scattering at the impact,
mothers shielding their children by instinct,
old war vets crouching behind automobiles
as police set up an outer cordon
for the unexploded ordinance.
Rockets often fall
in the night sky of the skull, down long avenues
of the brain's myelin sheathing, over synapses
and the rough structures of thought, they fall
into the hippocampus, into the seat of memory—
where lovers and strangers and old friends
entertain themselves, unaware of the dangers
headed their way, or that I will need to search
the way the bomb disposal tech
walks tethered and alone down Divisadero Street,
suited-up as if walking on the moon's surface
as the crowd watches just how determined he is
to dismantle death, to take it apart
piece by piece—the bravest thing I've ever seen.
Down in the hole, down in the clay and mud,
we dig. The noon sun hot on our backs
as we bend to the task, as if digging
down into our own shadows
with the stained shovels of our hands,
digging until someone gasps—another,
they have discovered another; with pale eyes
the dead faces are rooted among worms and stone,
the brassy shells of bullets in their mouths.
We raise each one carefully out of the earth,
men dressed in sandals and thawbs,
wet cotton robes dyed by clay,
and women, like the one I lift now,
how her hair unravels in a sheen
of copper, cold as water in my palms.
In the 69-kilogram-weight class,
the Bulgarian, Boevski, is the world-
record holder. He cannot be beaten.
At least, not by Sawara Mohammed.
Mohammed, at 26, has shoveled cement
longer than he cares to remember. In Arbil,
in Kurdish northern Iraq, he strains hard
to lift the barbell with its heavy plates,
round as the wheels of chariots—then, muscles give
and the wheels bounce in dust before him. No,
he cannot defeat the Bulgarian.
The problem is in lifting weight over distance.
It isn't a matter of iron, or of will.
Boevski's records, in Beijing, will go
unnoticed, because Mohammed is training now
to lift the city of Arbil, with its people;
his quadriceps and posterior chain
straining, the muscles tremoring to lift
the Euphrates and Tigris both, mountains
of the north, deserts of the west, Basra,
Karbala, Ramadi, Tikrit, Mosul—
three decades of war and the constant suffering
of millions—this is what Sawara lifts,
and no matter what effort he makes, he will fail
completely, and the people will love him for it.
March 25, 2007
In the moment after the explosion, an old man
staggers through the cloud of dust and debris, hands
pressed hard against his bleeding ears
as if to block out the noise of the world
at 11:40 a.m., the broken sounds of the wounded
rising around him, chawled and roughened by pain,
while a young man runs past, shrieking
at the unspeakable, a water-pipe still in his hands,
its tube and mouthpiece bouncing
like a goose with a broken neck.
Buildings catch fire. Cafes.
Stationary shops. The Renaissance Bookstore.
A huge column of smoke plumes upward
fueled by the Kitab al-Aghani,
al-Isfahani's Book of Songs, the elegies of Khansa,
the exile poetry of Youssef and al-Azzawi,
religious tracts, manifestos, translations
of Homer, Shakespeare, Whitman, Neruda.
Book-leaves curl their darkening tongues
in the fire's blue-tipped heat, verse by verse,
the long centuries rising over Baghdad
for all to see.
As the weeks pass, sunsets
deepen over the Pacific. Couples
lie in the spring fields of California,
drinking wine, making love in the lavender
hues of dusk. There is a sweet, apple-roasted
smell of tobacco in the air. We sleep.
We dream. Then wake to the dawn's
early field of lupine—to discover ourselves
lightly dusted in ash, with the poems of Sulma
and Sayyab in our hair, Sa'di on our eyebrows,
Hafiz and Rumi on our lips.
In memory of Mohammed Hayawi
"The destruction work is not as easy as people would think."
Qudratullah Jamal, Taliban Information Minister
After the shelling of artillery, with their long graceful telemetries
of explosives in flight—our stuccoed faces
crumbled and sheared free from the stone, but we did not bow down;
we stood with our backs to the sandstone cliffs, just as we did
in 1729, when Nader Shah—the Napoleon of Persia, the Second Alexander—
fired cannons to bring the people to their knees. These new soldiers,
do they know the old proverb: if you discover the Buddha along the path,
strike him down. I am Vairocana, the one of many colors.
The red one beside me, my old friend Sakyamuni. Soldiers
pay out double ropes in descent, on rappel from the crowns of our heads
with dynamite in their satchels. Such strange gifts they bring,
their faces sweating with exertion, lips chapped by thirst.
Do they know that within us the stone bleeds vermilion,
sulfides of mercury, carbonates of lead. Within us
still more Buddhas sitting cross-legged, their robes in cinnabar,
aquamarine, the creatures of dream gazing at the water's edge.
These men hanging from braided ropes—they place their charges
in the sockets of our eyes. They lodge them in the drums
of our ears. And though our lips have crumbled to the earth
below us, our lungs are now open to the wind.
It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 a.m.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris river.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth.
The sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.