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IRAQ AND GAZA: What Can Poetry Say?

I get the NYT every morning online. This article (nytimes.com/2009/01/09/world/middleeast/09redcross.html)..sickened, appalled, and took me back years to the invasion of Baghdad by the U.S. and the carnage left behind, including a young 19 year old girl decapitated by U.S. bombs. In the AP report her mother was wailing over her lifeless body. Now, I have the image of young Palestinian children huddled by their mothers' corpses for days while no help came, until finally the Red Cross was allowed inside the village. I don't know if I have the fortitude to write another poem like "Her Daughter." It took me well over a year to "finish." Of course, it will never really be finished, because this kind of what our governments so glibly and cowardly call "collateral damage" will never be finished.


“charred dove
nightingale still burning”
Mirza Ghalib, translated by W.S. Merwin

Baghdad, April 8, 2003

Four years younger than mine,
her daughter lies under the rubble.

She stands at the edge of it,
watching the men lifting one stone,

another, till out of the crater
they gently lift somebody’s

body, a body she now
sees is female. She tries to recall

what her daughter was wearing,
but no scrap of clothing remains

on it. Whose body is it? She sees
no face. She sees no head.

At the edge of the crater she stands
while they swaddle the body in blankets

a neighbor has brought. Through
the blasted streets she calls

a name that gets lost
in the rattle of gunfire, a name

no one hears as they pull
from the rubble her daughter’s

head, hair twisted round like
a root-wad, not blonde

like my daughter’s, not waking
up as my daughter will be, being safe

on this morning in Texas, beginning
to brush her hair after her shower,

her face in the mirror as perfect as
always I see it, the fair skin

she wishes had South Asian
dusk in it, not Southern

sun from the fields of her mother’s
line, as she examines

the scar on her temple,
the chin she believes looks

not quite smooth
enough, while her fingers

scroll over its surface
as if they are translating

Urdu, word after
unsteady word of a ghazal

that she must recite
today, all the while fearing

her voice will fail
even as she tries

to fill up the silence
with Ghalib’s desire

to see, lost in the blaze
of the mirror

that holds her,
the face of the Beloved.

first published in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, collected in COMING TO REST, LSU Press

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Kathryn, I came back to your

Kathryn, I came back to your post three times already. I might as well leave a comment :-)

First, this is a beautiful poem, full of love, sadness and sympathy.

Second, what a horrible scene to imagine those children by their mothers´ corpses! Can you imagine the nightmare they might have gone through? They could have been my children if I were living in the Gaza strip  at this moment...


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Her Daughter

Luciana, thank you so much for your response. This was such a hard poem to write, and I can't imagine right now writing a poem for those children staying for so long by their mother's bodies in Gaza. I began the Daughter poem immediately after reading the news release in the paper, but it was not until I read renowned Urdu scholar and translator C.M. Naim's essay on Ghalib and the ghazal that I came to a way of closing this poem. Mr. Naim was my daughter's professor of Urdu, by the way, so somehow the connection seemed right, the literary connection, that poetry does survive and speak in the midst of such horror.
All my best, Kathryn