Monday, May 12, 2008

Marilyn Krysl's "Baghdad: The Disappeared Girls"

This is from McSweeney's, which, if you can imagine, is actually publishing some poetry. For a while, they decided to corner the market on sestinas (see below). Now they've moved to pantoums and senryus. Go figure. Dave Eggers, thanks for the bone.

Still, this sestina, "Baghdad: The Disappeared Girls," has a surprisingly contemporary and political edge to it; what other sestina has an epigraph from Amiri Baraka? Having just watched the film, Grbavica: Land of Dreams, a recent film about a female rape survivor of the "civil" war in the former Yugoslavia, I'm reminded how much war becomes not a battle among men, but a violence against civil society--men, women, and children alike, each with their own burdens and torments.

Baghdad:
The Disappeared Girls.
BY MARILYN KRYSL

- - - -

Luxury, then, is a way of being ignorant.
—Amiri Baraka

- - - -

A girl outside the primary-schoolyard gate
has disappeared. Another—no one sees—
doesn't come home. A black car ate a broken
girl's shrill scream. Her father: She's my jewel!
I curse the West. We didn't ask for war.
Those men who come: don't they have daughters?

War slams down. Doors swing shut. Daughters
stay in. One father drove a truck, his gate
stood open, he paid his daughter's school. The war
blasts on. His girl's smart: her teacher sees
in her another teacher. Now his gold
leaves school to sweep a floor: another broken

promise. No truck, no work: he owns his broken
heart, and hers. Other pink-blouse daughters
watch TV all day. Behind each sapphire
three thousand sweating horses. Behind each gate
a girl on hold. Scared. And bored—how seize
the day? They wilt. Lose weight. They are my war—

I who buy the Uzis, mortars. (War
is terrorism: Howard Zinn.) Our broken
treaties fan my shame: dead girls, dead seas.
We polish our luxuries. These daughters
and these sons are ours, and ours the gate
that shuts our children out. There goes an emerald

of a girl—to assemble mortars. This amethyst
works at the land-mine plant. War is war
against the spirit. Break it, smash the gate,
desecrate the altar. Something's broken?
Toss it. Buy another. Another daughter
puts on pink pants, a pink hairband, a rhinestone

ring. Then she sits down and weeps. She sees
that spill of light across the floor, pearls
the sun lays down as though she's some god's daughter.
Zinn again: War is always war
against children. We're good at making broken
things. It's easy as shopping. Our aggregate:

indifference, comfort, war. Here's a gate
made of diamonds. Open it. That broken
girl, our daughter, waits here, and she sees.

3 comments:

krysl said...

I'm so happy to find this blog, which addresses my concerns, and pleased you liked the poem. I was devastated when Bush declared war, and have for years admired Howard Zinn--and the setina form--its repeating words force me to go deeper. I have also been venting my outrage in satire: the new book of stories DINNER WITH OSAMA is just out. The title story is amusing and (I hope) moving. The part of the book about the war in Sudan is not amusing--war can't be--but it's my love song to the Sudanese Lost Boys and to Sudanese women we're bringing to Boulder.

krysl said...

Philip,
I looked at your website and see that you too are a Cleveland State poet--I want to read your new book of poetry, and your book about poetry and war also looks interesting from the description. There are many of us, longing for our government to stop spreading suffering around the globe and start spreading some compassionate statesmanship instead. When Bush declared war, I published a poem called "Target" in the Progressive, the poem inspired by a photo of an Iraqi boy subject to depleted uranium whose head would not stop growing. And others, one about Falluja, another about a family in Rafa, and a poem dedicated to Mariad Corrigan McGuire who won the Nobel Peace Prize for leading nonviolent marches in Belfast--you've probably heard of her. Writing each of those poems felt as though I was casting a vote for peace--something which is never on the ballot.... In addition to counting our votes they ought to count our poems, stories, memoirs!

Philip Metres said...

Marilyn,

thanks so much for checking in, and I enjoyed that sestina quite a bit. If you have links to some other pieces, send along, I'd love to check them out. I'm also putting together an anthology of "peace poems,"--send something to me?