Further thoughts on the cultural labor of poetry and art. Not merely "is it good?," but "what has it accomplished?"...reviews of recent poetry collections; selected poems and art dealing with war/peace/social change; reviews of poetry readings; links to political commentary (particularly on conflicts in the Middle East); youtubed performances of music, demos, and other audio-video nuggets dealing with peaceful change, dissent and resistance.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 15: Muslim Burial (Standard Operating Procedure) + Huda Al-Marashi
Lenten Journey Day 15
Heed me, O
and listen to what my adversaries say.
Must good be repaid with evil
that they should dig a pit to take my life?
Remember that I stood before you
to speak in their behalf,
to turn away your wrath from them.
--Jeremiah 18: 18-20
"Muslim Burial (Standard Operating Procedure)"
from Sand Opera:
One of the
odder moments in reading Guantanamo Prison S.O.P. manual was discovering a
rather elaborate protocol for burying a dead detainee, including a diagram for
how the burial should look. It turns out that this rather-elaborate forethought
has been necessary. Nine detainees have died while in prison. And seven years
after Barack Obama promised to close the prison, it still remains open, thanks
to a recalcitrant Congress and political posturing and fear-mongering. Just yesterday,
President Obama unveiled a plan to close the prison, saying, “It is viewed
as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of
law,” Mr. Obama said. “This is about closing a chapter in our history.”
It is not viewed as a stain. It is a stain. The Bush Administration created
a prison outside of the jurisdiction of U.S. law in order to do whatever they
wanted to do. That is a stain.
final detainees continue to rot in prison, Iraqi exiles in the United States
are also confronting the fact that many of them may never go back to Iraq. Huda
Al-Marashi’s poignant op-ed below describes the experience burying her
grandfather in California, keeping the customs but far from her grandfather’s
Iraqi immigrants must learn to grieve at a distance” by Huda Al-Marashi, first
published in the Los Angeles Times
wanted to accompany my grandfather's body back to Iraq, but my mother refused.
It was 2006, and the insurgency was at its height. “Isn't it enough that I am
burying my father?” she said. “Do I have extra brothers to lose?”
We buried my
grandfather in the Muslim portion of a sprawling, green-lawned cemetery about
an hour from my parents' Monterey home. Because of state regulations, his
shrouded body was placed inside a plain wooden box, not directly in the ground
as Islamic custom requires.
His children on
the East Coast and in Britain came for the funeral. His children in the United
Arab Emirates mourned their father in place and held satellite memorials.
Only when I put
a loved one in the ground did I feel as if I was putting down roots.
long drive, we visited my grandfather's grave site regularly, loading up our
car with picnic lunches. We'd spread blankets, pray, eat and dote on his grave.
Once my mother spilled a bit of coffee onto the dry soil, as if giving her
father a sip of his favorite drink, and I marveled at this unexpected thing
that had happened: Someone from my household was buried in America, the place
that seemed like an accident, the place where my father landed after completing
his medical training, the place my mother brought her parents to escape Saddam
I was born in
this country. I was raised in this country. I went to school in this country,
own a home in this country and have children in this country. But only when I
put a loved one in the ground did I feel as if I was putting down roots.
sister was among those who didn't attend my grandfather's funeral. But a few
weeks before he died, she came to visit from the UAE. When she left, she kissed
him in his wheelchair and walked backward to the car, waving and blowing him
kisses, only to race back to his side. She did this three more times until we
were all standing in the foyer of my mother's house laughing and crying.
ago, she died of cancer. I didn't see her once while she was in the hospital. I
didn't hold her hand. I didn't kiss her goodbye. I have not seen her grave.
I didn't make
the trip because I'd recently taken my family of five to attend her son's
wedding. It was too much for us all to go again and too difficult for me to go
alone and leave my children behind. Such decisions are inevitable when your
entire relationship with your extended family hinges on airfare.
When the cancer
spread to my aunt's brain, my mother rushed from California to her sister's
bedside, where she stayed until she had no choice but to return for work. She
cried the whole way back. At the airport, her eyes were red and swollen, her
cheeks rubbed raw with tissues.
I found out my
aunt was in her final moments when my mother dashed into the hallway with a
wild look in her eyes, her cellphone in hand. “She's dying,” she said.
For the next 30
minutes, she watched frantic texts fly back and forth. “Come now!” the
caregiver wrote to my aunt's children, who'd not yet arrived at the hospital.
The last text came: “No more Madame.” My mother repeated this line again and
again and collapsed to the floor.
After my aunt
died, I made a list of all the times I'd seen her. She came to California when
I moved into my dorm room my second year of college, when I picked out my
wedding dress, for my wedding, to meet my first and then second child. I had
these stand-alone chapters, 15 of them, to be exact, that I desperately wanted
to stitch together into some kind of a story, some semblance of a shared life.
I typed her
name into my email search bar. There were six messages from me along with her
replies. I printed out every exchange, wondering why I didn't send more, say
more. I looked through my old cards and letters and found a note from her from
before my wedding that I stuffed into my wallet.
I had not
appreciated the particular pain of unanchored, disembodied grief that my aunt
must have felt when my grandfather died until she passed away, too.
Now it was our
turn to host the satellite memorials. We held two: one for the Iraqi immigrants
in Northern California, and one for the Iraqi immigrants in Southern
We wept without
a body, without a grave site to focus our attention. The women in our
community, the ones I grew up calling “aunty,” consoled me, bemoaning the loss
of the real aunt with whom I had shared blood but not place or time.
These days I
listen to the clamor about refugees, and I think of my grandfather's death and
my aunt's death and just how far the grasp of exile extends, how many people it
ensnares, how deeply it cuts. I think about the desperation that forces people
to accept the vulnerability of living in a foreign land, and I cannot comprehend
begrudging another human being such an unenviable lot in life.
exile is just the beginning of generations of heartbreak.
weighing visits against airfare and daily obligations. It means missing out on
births, graduations and weddings. It means hearing that a loved one has died
and knowing that you spent your short time on Earth in different places.
Al-Marashi is an Iraqi-American at work on a memoir about the impact of her
dual-identity on her marriage. Excerpts from this memoir have appeared in the anthologies Love Inshallah: The
Secret Love Lives of Muslim American Women, Becoming: What Makes a Woman, In
Her Place, and Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women and
Extreme Religion, a collection that the Washington Post listed
among the best nonfiction for 2013. Other works have appeared in The
Rumpus Funny Women Column and the anthology Rust Belt Chic.
Her poem, “TV Terror,” is part of a touring exhibit commemorating the
Mutanabbi Street Bombing in Baghdad. She is the recipient of a 2012 Cuyahoga
County Creative Workforce Fellowship and a 2015 Aspen Summer Words Emerging