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POEM: The Eyes of These Two Children

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Author of Battlefield without Borders: Iraq Poems

for bg

October, and Mill Creek, torrential after winter rains,
is a trickle, a testament to tenacious ice and snow
still clinging to rock and shade in mountains.
All summer and into autumn, thin fingers of water roll and sift sand,
turning particles over and over,
a mind intent on its thoughts,
pondering questions.

If questions can lead us,
like a star or signpost,
if questions can steer us like a lodestone,
let this be one: “How can we be
responsible to Iraqis
ten thousand miles away,
caught in the teeth of war?”

Stay with us, Mustafa says, from his wheelchair in Amman,
for the whole world has forgotten us.

If a question can draw us
like a horizon or a mountain pass,
if a question can become a quest;

if a question can accompany us,
can, like a partner, settle into our soul,
like an embryo, take root and grow,
let it be this one:
“How can I enact a commitment to Iraqi people?”

I carry these thoughts while walking among oak trees
on a leafy animal trail above Mill Creek,
a path where people and animals have always walked,
a place where the very idea of always could have been conceived.
Daily, I gather acorns for food
and study deer, squirrels, birds, and bear
who also gather these glossy, plump, pointed gifts,
who uncover, beneath the leaf duff of my mind, memories and questions.
I move among other presences:
a thousand generations of hunter-gatherers accompany me.
Released from its incarceration,
time stretches backward and forward
and my connection to people follows.
Released from the corral of rational thought,
my mind steeps in connections with other species
and with people across the globe.
Experience is its own certification:
I dwell, like all creatures, in a vast, complex kaleidoscope
of time and space.

In this context, I consider an event in Iraq.
Last week, in Karrada, a usual convoy
of SUVs and armored security guards –
usual, that is, if you watch Fox News
or if you are a child growing up in Baghdad,
questioning it, turning it over and over,
reading it with the deft fingers of your mind,
fingering the familiar physiognomy of your world
and finding it comprised of barbed wire, broken bones,
      burnt out and bullet-ridden cars.
The convoy was usual, too, in its deadliness, its taut and explicit threat,
like unexploded ordnance: Come too close and I will maim you.
And an all-too-usual outcome:
a car failed to perceive the threat,
broke an invisible line, triggering a barrage of bullets,
and two women lay shattered and dead in its front seat.

Corporate officials offered an initial assessment:
Our security team was approached at speed by a vehicle which failed to stop
despite an escalation of warnings.
Finally shots were fired at the vehicle and it stopped.

The statement failed to mention the two adult hearts that also stopped,
and the heart failure of guards who fled
without securing medical aid for the injured.
They raced off, eye witnesses testified, like gangsters.
It also failed to account for two children in the back seat,
their racing hearts failing, for the moment,
to comprehend the meaning of blood and brains and hair
spattering the upholstery inside the car and their clothes,
and stuck to windows.

Despite the legerdemain of denial,
other statements made clear the nature of questions which turn
in the minds of US officials
and that waging war is one part weaponry,
three parts public relations.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the shooting
had nothing to do with the State Department or the US government.

In like form, a US embassy spokeswoman in Baghdad
said the shooting was not connected with the embassy
and that USAID does not direct the security arrangements of [its] contractors.

If a question can lead us, try these:
What part of a child is amputated
when her parent or relative is killed in front of her?
When she wakes up after surgery,
where is the pain centered,
where are the bandages laid,
where does the wound ooze, the scar form?

Fingering the deep soils of our minds,
let us search for the sharpest and the most tender words
and fit them onto the arrows of sentences.
Let us notch them to the bowstring of paragraphs
and aiming at the architects of this war
release them.

Let us become the words that we embrace
and walk, voluble, into their offices,
forbidding them to hide for another moment
from the eyes of these two children.


All proceeds from the sale of Battlefield without Borders: Iraq Poems (all but $2.00 of the sale price) goes directly to Iraqi victims of this war. For more information, including brief portraits of the families we are assisting, visit www.battlefieldwithoutborders.org or e-mail the author at david@battlefieldwithoutborders.org.

Smith-Ferri, who is the current Poet Laureate of Ukiah, CA and a winner of the Janice Farrell Poetry Prize, has read his poetry at events across the country. His poetry and essays have been published in Z Magazine, Yes! Magazine, The Other Side Magazine, and the print edition of CounterPunch, as well as numerous online publications.