Greetings from the Land of Enchantment: from Gary Kamiya on

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

from Gary Kamiya on

What follows is an excerpt from an article on Today's Salon. If you'd like to read the entire article, just click onto the Salon link to the right. Like Kamiya, I believe poetry is one of the ways that we can make what seems so unreal, real.

Because we are not acting...

"We must wait. Wait until there is no choice but to leave. Wait until the smoke and chaos and hatred have driven us away. Wait until we have asked another person's kid to be the last person to die for a mistake.

But there is one thing we can do while we wait. We can stretch out our fingertips and imagination and try to at least make this unreal war real. We can truly support our troops, whom many of us will never know, by doing everything we can to end this war. We owe those who have died in Iraq, and those we are about to send to die, that much.

Poetry, perhaps even more than pictures, makes war live. We understand the true horror of World War I not because of newsreels, but because of the searing words of Erich Maria Remarque and Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. And Iraq has produced its own poet, Brian Turner, who was an infantry team leader there for a year. In 2005, he published a collection of poems, "Here, Bullet," that is destined to endure long after the shrill arguments about the war have been forgotten.

In a poem titled "2000 lbs," Turner opens with a description of a suicide bomber in Mosul's Ashur Square, who is watching in his rearview mirror for a convoy. He writes of two men, an Iraqi taxi driver named Sefwan and an American Guardsman named Sgt. Ledouix, who are also in Ashur Square.

A flight of gold, that's what Sefwan thinks
as he lights a Miami, draws in the smoke
and waits in his taxi at the traffic circle.
He thinks of summer 1974, lifting
pitchforks of grain high in the air,
the slow drift of it like the fall of Shatha's hair,
and although it was decades ago, he still loves her,
remembers her standing at the canebrake
where the buffalo cooled shoulder-deep in the water,
pleased with the orange cups of flowers he brought her,
and he regrets how much can go wrong in a life,
how easily the years slip by, light as grain, bright
as the street's concussion of metal, shrapnel
traveling at the speed of sound to open him up
in blood and shock, a man whose last thoughts
are of love and wreckage, with no one there
to whisper him gone.

Sgt. Ledouix of the National Guard
speaks but cannot hear the words coming out,
and it's just as well his eardrums ruptured
because it lends the world a certain calm,
though the traffic circle is filled with people
running in panic, their legs a blur
like horses in a carousel, turning
and turning the way the tires spin
on the Humvee flipped to its side,
the gunner's hatch he was thrown from
a mystery to him now, a dark hole
in metal the color of sand, and if he could,
he would crawl back inside of it,
and though his fingertips scratch at the asphalt
he hasn't the strength to move:
shrapnel has torn into his ribcage
and he will bleed to death in minutes,
but he finds himself surrounded by a strange
beauty, the shine of light on the broken,
a woman's hand touching his face, tenderly
the way his wife might, amazed to find
a wedding ring on his crushed hand,
the bright gold sinking in flesh
going to bone.

What does poetry have to do with politics? Nothing -- and everything. It is too late to stop the fatal endgame of Bush's war. But at least we can honor those who have died in that war, Iraqis and Americans alike, by refusing to look away from their deaths. Poetry, as the great Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote, is a witness. And if we the living highly resolve, as we must, that these dead shall not have died in vain, the only way to do so is by ensuring that we never again launch an unjustified war.

On that subject, the poet should have the last word. Here is another Turner poem, whose title means "friend" in Arabic, prefaced with a quotation from Sa'di, the 13th century Persian poet.

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill."


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