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.
Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 20: The Original Recipe from the Abbasid + Delights from the Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah
The prophet sent him the message:
“Go and wash seven times in the Jordan,
and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”
Happy Leap Day! We’re heading back to the Recipe poem from yesterday,
and to share also the text that was its original inspiration, which comes from
Nawal Nasrallah’s Delights from the Garden of Eden. Although Lent is a
fast time, Nawal’s work reminds us of the centrality of food as nurturing, as
healing (like the waters of Jordan), as care for the soul. She even wrote a
post on her blog about Lenten dishes in the Middle East! See here: http://nawalcooking.blogspot.com/2014/04/lent-dishes-from-caliphs-kitchens-to.html
is a recipe of a royal dish, which I found in 13th-century anonymous
cookbook Anwa’ al-Saydala fi Alwan al-At’ima (A Compendium of Dishes
and their Health Benefits) of Muslim Spain, which was greatly influenced by
the haute cuisine of Baghdad during the Abbasid period. The recipe gives
directions on how to prepare a stuffed calf.
Take a fat young male sheep, skin and
clean it, then make a small opening between the thighs, and carefully empty the
cavity. Next, insert a grilled goose, and stuff the goose with grilled chicken.
Inside the chicken, put a young pigeon, in the pigeon's belly put a grilled
starling (zurzour), and inside the starling put a grilled or fried
sparrow (‘usfour). So all these you put inside each other, all grilled
and basted with the sauce [mix of murri ‘fermented sauce,’ olive oil,
Now sew closed the stuffed sheep, and
roast it in a preheated tannour oven until browned. Baste it with the
above mentioned sauce, and stuff it in the cavity of a cleaned and prepared
calf. Sew closed the calf, and let it roast in a preheated tannour oven
until browned. Take it out and serve it. Intaha (that’s it).
you think that the medieval gourmets with their cooks went a bit too wild, then
listen to this: It seems that the trend of stuffing poultry with poultry is the
latest gourmet fad in the United States of nowadays. The dish is called
"Turducken." It is a Thanksgiving turkey stuffed with a duck, which
in turn is stuffed with a stuffed chicken. The trend came from the south where
there is a long tradition of stuffing a bird with a bird. What brought this to
the attention of people was a Wall Street Journal article in 1996 just before
Thanksgiving, featuring a company that prepares turduckens. Immediately after
that, we are told, the company received 10,000 orders a day, and the company
sold 25,000 turduckens for Thanksgiving. Devotees think its taste just blows
your mind, skeptics think the idea is disgusting, and paranoids think it is a
bacterial contamination nightmare. What do you think?
Pied Piper” Summoned by Nawal Nasrallah
all rushed at the Pied Piper summons,
a feast like no other.
roasted lamb, falling off the bones,
stuffed with goose, a hen, a pigeon, and a thrush,
with dripping sauces.
shall be intrigued, he promised.
crowds, the confusion, the deafening drums, we all descended,
we believed in it or not. The path was steep.
is this stench? That “black slimy stuff?”
said that’s the earth’s body, friends, “crispy on the outside, and ready” to
your feast. Dig in!
the feast, dear fellows, was shoved down our throats that day.
times have changed.
it like a thousand years or so ago,
the Pied Piper summoned us back then
a feast like no other?
shall be intrigued, he promised.
awaits you guys, including ye party crashers,
stuffed, the hidden, the buried, the shrouded, the suffocated, you name it.
we followed, clamoring with the music of drums and tambourines.
were those though who stayed behind, for they were suspicious of names.
we who made it there, were indeed intrigued,
stuffed eggplants, misleading the eaters with their perfect shape,
if nothing has been done to them,
meatballs with egg yolks hidden inside,
stuffed zucchini buried in sweet and sour sauce,
pastry rolls shrouded in sheets of dough,
kunafa noodles suffocated with syrup,
the crown jewel of all stuffed dishes, a grilled lamb in a roasted calf hidden.
the sheep, a goose stuffed with a grilled chicken,
the chicken, a pigeon, with a starling stuffed,
which a sparrow hidden.
oozing with succulent delight.
coxed by the Abbasid epicure al-Baghdadi’s sermon on the pleasures of food,
did indeed enjoy the feast in two healths, back then,
the Abbasid”: Palimpsests of God + Layla Azmi Goushey & Sarah Browning
Of course I
have no idea who God is. In the Scripture today, the first reading is from the
opening of Exodus, when Moses, tending the flock, came to Horeb, and he walks
by a burning bush (“the bush, though on fire, was not consumed”). This bush begins
speaking to him in the voice of God. Is God. Is “I am who am.” Is Is.
read from Kazim Ali, on translations of Allah in Islam, and from Alicia
Ostriker, on the Jewish and Christian traditions, that there is a God beneath
the God we have conceived. (Kazim’s Fasting at Ramadan, of course, is
partly an inspiration to this project. شكرا). All our human knowing of God (and
world!) is incomplete, fragmentary, myopic, dangerously partial (in both senses
of the word).
I do know that when women’s spiritual insights contribute as much as men’s have
done until now, to what we think God is, or the soul, or good and evil, all
these things will be different. The being we call God the Father swallowed God
the Mother in pre-history. But like the grandmother that the wolf swallows in
Little Red Riding Hood, the Goddess is not dead. She’s still there in the belly
of the beast. It’s time for her to be re-born, and we can all be midwives.”
How can we midwife
a new sense of the divine, when we can’t even understand and embrace the layers
of Iraq, or ourselves, for that matter? I’m thinking of these layers today,
partly because of the poem I’m posting, “Recipe from the Abbasid,” which
concerns an ancient recipe dating from the 13th century (the source
will be revealed tomorrow), creates a palimpsest between the 13th
and the 20th centuries, two eras of empires in Iraq, two of many
eras—Iraq being not just a benighted country riven by civil war, nor just a
site of imperial longing, but a place that is the cradle of civilization, host
of thousands and thousands of years of human history. I recall reading with
delight many years ago Samuel Noah Kramer’s History Begins at Sumer (1956),
which is doubtlessly flawed but eye-opening in many ways.
alongside “Recipe from the Abbasid,” is Layla Azmi Goushey’s reflection on it
and Munif’s classic Cities of Salt, and Sarah Browning’s poem “Gas.”
Many layers to dig through!
clean a fat, young sheep & open it
like a door, a
port city hosting overseas guests
its stomach. In its interior, place
exploratory khaki, a stuffed goose
& in the
goose’s belly, a stuffed hen, & in the hen,
nests, C rations, grenades, a stuffed
in the pigeon’s belly, a stuffed thrush,
& in the
thrush’s belly, contractual negotiations
threats, all sprinkled with sauce. Sew the slit
into a smile,
dispatch handshakes. Add Chevron,
Shell. Place the sheep in the oven
until this black slimy stuff, excretion
of the earth’s
body, is crispy on the outside
& ready for
the Abbasid’ and Cities of Salt: Collective Memories” by Layla
Compassion can be exorcised for the
price of a Gulf starling.
Nets are cast across shorn winter fields to catch the oil-black iridescent
birds speckled with white dots. The nets are lifted, and, like the bedouins in Cities
of Salt, the zarzour's migration is interrupted. They are placed in cages
for passersby to purchase for merciful release or they come with a Recipe to gut open like a door to roast and consume their dignity and strength.
InMunif’s Cities of Salt, the Emir tells workers in Metres’s new port city hosting overseas guests to
kill a camel and several sheep to welcome the Americans. The head of the camel
is placed in front of the American chief and the heads of the sheep are placed
before the other American guests. The heads’ sincere humble smiles face the surveyors
in exploratory khaki. The Emir’s sacrifice a sad parody of Eid al-Adha;
Ibrahim’s sacrifice to a merciful God.
In truth, not
much changed between the Abbasid and Aramco dynasties. Our collective
unconscious travels along slow genetic DNA trails. Golden ages are defined by
the victors. Suture this generous wound; roast this humble beast emitting a
petroleum blood-pudding butter. Carboniferous residue denying mercy to the
sweet-songed bulbul thrush; the pigeon a victim of Munif’s Emir’s falcon...
a stuffed goose & in
the goose’s belly, a stuffed hen, & in the hen… a stuffed pigeon, & in
the pigeon’s belly, a stuffed thrush, & in the thrush’s belly… layers of cooked ambitions and
manipulations black layer of machine gun nests, C rations, grenades…
contractual negotiations & subtle threats. Great glasscities of salt that will melt back into the
sands of Wadi Ibrahim. Opportunities for occasional mercy imprisoned in the
belly of treacherous sacrifice. The recipe and the ingredients never change.
Goushey is a Palestinian-American writer and educator based in Saint Louis, MO.
Assistant Professor of English at St. Louis Community College, she holds a
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Certificate in the Teaching of
Writing from the University of Missouri - St. Louis where she is pursuing a PhD
in Adult Education. Goushey's work has been published in journals such as
“Yellow Medicine Review”, “Mizna: Journal of Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring
Arab America”, and “Natural Bridge”. She writes a blog titled Transnational
Literacies at http://transnationalliteracies.blogspot.com/. Follow her on Twitter @lgoushey.
After the great
snow of 2016, my car sits
locked in icy
drifts a week, green fossil
of the oil age
preserved in graying amber.
I relearn the
art of walking, of reading
paperbacks on the bus, which uses
stuff, this gas, to bear us through
snow-narrowed streets of Washington, DC –
Exxon, Capital City of Shell;
still we are
two dozen here driving one tank.
Once the rains
come and the weather gang
collective heads as the mercury
rises to 60
degrees, my car is free to roam again
of BP, the Republic of Sunoco.
I’ll drive my
car to the climate change rally.
I’ll drive it
to the poetry reading that protests
war in Iraq,
that denounces repression in Syria,
that stands in
solidarity with poets locked up
Arabia. My car gives me that much
power, plus music to soothe me
and a phone
charger to keep me connected
to my comrades
in struggle. My car glides
smoothly in and
out of gear, builds my self-
esteem as I
parallel park perfectly each day
in tight spots
on the hill where we dwell.
scares me. The wars enrage me.
silenced by the despots, break my heart.
But my car
needs me. My car is nothing
without me. My
car and I are one. I pledged
long ago – an American century
ago – to my
beautiful, necessary, beloved car.
Browning is co-founder and Executive Director of Split This Rock. She
is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and a featured
writer for Other Words. Author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007),
now in its second printing, and coeditor of D.C. Poets Against the
War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2004), she is the recipient of
artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, a
Creative Communities Initiative grant, and the People Before Profits Poetry
Prize. In March, 2014 Browning co-edited a special Split This Rock issue of
POETRY Magazine with Don Share.
Today, I read
the Gospel of Luke story of what used to be called “The Parable of the Prodigal
Son” and then came to be called “The Parable of the Forgiving Father,” trying
to figure out what it might tell me about “Woman Mourning Son” (from Sand
Opera) and Solmaz Sharif’s “Look” (from her forthcoming book LOOK)—two
poems dealing with the suddenness and surreality of drone warfare and targeted
assassination of suspected terrorists.
In part, Jesus’s
parable concerns a child who stubbornly instrumentalizes his father by taking his
share of the inheritance and blowing it “in dissipation.” When the proverbial
pig poop hits the fan and he’s literally working with swine (something that
would have been seen as forbidden and shameful in every way), he decides to return
to his father and confess his sin—even to the point of preparing what he’ll say
in advance. The son comes home, perhaps, because he has no other choice. The father,
unexpectedly, meets him halfway to the house with arms extended in welcome and
forgiveness. “His father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion.”
had a dream last night in which I realized that I was seeing everyone as merely
spectral. I wasn’t able to see them fully, wholly, bodily, spiritually. Maybe the
connection is this: the question that the drone operators in the documentary “Unmanned”
inevitably ask themselves is: how could I have seen this other person as merely
a target, when I spent so long tracking them in their daily life, seeing that
they are as human as I am? At what point did I lose my own humanity, failing to
see the other as human, executing him? Their question is ours as well.
Mourning Son” by Philip Metres
I pull up the blinds,
they screech in retreat,
beaking for space on the lawn.
I flip open the
news and she flutters out,
blot of her shadow. I yawn,
her mouth yawns
and yawns. Like wings, her chador
unfurls over a
bare, bleached street. She looks
she’s flying, one leg cut off
by the photo.
The shape of her shadow’s
an F-16, the
flat plane of her hand
the jet nose,
the other hand a missile
gently beneath the wing. And now
the blot of
that shadow’s a flailing bat,
flag—this black-clad woman’s hands
skyward, as if she wants to vault
the blot of
this shadow. From above, it looks
whirling, a waltz with no one
but chadors and
shadows. Now she’s lost
her face in the
ink. The road is a white
someone’s hands danced
over a keyboard
to deliver the ordnance.
By Solmaz Sharif
It matters what you call a thing:Exquisitea lover called me. Exquisite.
if I were from your culture, living in this country,
said the man outside the 2004 Republican National
Convention,I would put up with that for this country;
felt the need to clarify: You would put up with TORTURE,
you meanand he
what is your life;
years after they LOOK down from their jets
and declare my mother’s Abadan block PROBABLY
DESTROYED, we walked by the villas, the faces
of buildings torn off into dioramas, and recorded
on a hand-held camcorder and I saidThat’s
a gunas I
trained the lens on a rusting GUN-TYPE WEAPON and That’s Iraqas I zoomed over the river;
could take as long as 16 seconds between
the trigger pulled in Las Vegas and the
landing in Mazar-e-Sharif, after which they
will ask Did
we hit a child? No. A dog. they will answer themselves;
the federal judge at the sentencing hearing said I want to make sure I pronounce the
this lover would pronounce my name and call me Exquisiteand LAY the floor lamp across the
floor so that
we would not see each other by DIRECT
softening even the light;
Whereas the lover made my heat rise, rise so that if heat
sensors were trained on me, they could read
my THERMAL SHADOW through the roof and
you know we ran into like groups like mass executions. w/
hands tied behind their backs. and everybody shot in
the head side by side. its not like seeing a dead body walking to
the grocery store here. its not like that. its iraq you know its
iraq. its kinda like acceptable to see that there and not—it
was kinda like seeing a dead dog or a dead cat laying—;
Whereas I thought if he would LOOK at my exquisite face
or my father’s, he would reconsider;
mean I should be sent MISSING because of my family
he answeredYes. That’s exactly what I mean,
adding that his wife helped draft the PATRIOT
Whereas the federal judge wanted to be sure he was
pronouncing the defendant’s name correctly
and said he
had read all the exhibits, which included the
wrote to cast the defendant in a loving
Whereas today we celebrate things like his transfer to a
detention center closer to home;
Whereas his son has moved across the country;
Whereas I made nothing happen;
know not what shall be on the morrow.For
what is your
life?It is even a
THERMAL SHADOW, it appears
so little, and then vanishes from the screen;
Whereas I cannot control my own heat and it can take
as long as 16 seconds between the trigger,
missile, and A dog, they will answer
dog, they will say: Now, therefore,
Let it matter what we call a thing.
Let it be the exquisite face for at least 16 seconds.
Let me LOOK at you.
Let me look at you in a light that takes years to get here.
(“Look” originally appeared in PEN America)
Istanbul to Iranian parents, Solmaz Sharif holds degrees from U.C.
Berkeley, where she studied and taught with June Jordan’s Poetry for the
People, and New York University. Her work has appeared in The New
Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Boston
Review, Witness, and others. The former managing director of the Asian
American Writers’ Workshop, her work has been recognized with a “Discovery”/Boston
Review Poetry Prize, scholarships from NYU and the Bread Loaf Writers’
Conference, a winter fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown,
an NEA fellowship, and a Stegner Fellowship. She has most recently been
selected to receive a 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award as well as a
Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. She is currently a Jones
Lecturer at Stanford University. Her first poetry collection, LOOK, will be published by Graywolf Press in
Sand Opera Journey Day 17: The final page of the arias & a call to action (end prolonged solitary confinement (+ Danny Caine & Marwa Helal)
So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”
Today is the final installment of the “abu ghraib arias” from Sand
Opera. I’m so happy that I can leave the prison behind, tuck it back into the
book and into some corner of my brain. I’m grateful that I can do that, and not
wake up to it, the way the men remaining in Guantanamo still do, the way
prisoners all over the world wake up to it, as if waking up at the bottom of a
I’m thinking about Joseph, the favored son, the master dreamer whose
special status enraged his brothers. How they first decided to kill him, then
to throw him in a well, and finally to sell him. Be careful of the dreamers,
the brothers want to tell us, they are dangerous. They think they are better
Thanks to Josie Setzler for the reminder about this: If you’re interested, sign the petition against prolonged solitary
confinement in U.S. prisons here: http://www.nrcat.org/torture-in-us-prisons/statement
Here in Cleveland, it’s snowing outside, thick flakes like white punctuation. Bringing
2013, I joined Philip Metres, fellow poet Paige Webb, and pianist Philip
Fournier for a performance of Abu Ghraib
Arias in its entirety at John Carroll University in Cleveland. The plan was
to split the poetic voices between us. The readers would speak their parts
simultaneously, creating an overlapping vocal tapestry (and occasionally
cacophony). Paige was the voice of God. I was The Redactor—every time a bit of
text was blacked over, I was to shout CLASSIFIED.
It was a claustrophobic
and difficult reading experience, and I’m sure it was so for the audience as
well. This is a good thing. The tragic subject matter of the Arias is difficult
to read, but I think it’s even harder to hear those voices—all of them found
and sampled, original words as spoken by those involved. What better way to
confront the errors and sins of our military, the pain of their victims, and
the motivations of the perpetrators than to hear them spoken out loud in the
words of those who were there?
As soon as we
figured out the timing, things went smoothly. That is, until we got to the last
page. How would we tackle the open field of punctuation? The last poem in arias is, memorably, composed entirely
of space and commas, white page and periods. It’s a devastating final note for
the sequence; it’s the ultimate erasure—all voices have been eliminated,
whether Iraqi or American. The last page of arias
is the ultimate triumph of The Redactor.
In this way,
the poem works really well on the page. Yet how could we translate it to the
environment of out-loud reading? Phil had the idea to simply breathe loudly,
all four of us, at different tempos. The effect was pretty staggering. Imagine:
at the end of a four-person poetry reading, nearing the part where the audience
is supposed to clap, all four readers look right at the crowd and simply
breathe, loud enough to be heard.
It created an air of unease in the room that suited abu ghraib arias’s subject matter. The
piece gives voice to both victims and perpetrators, daring us to search for
sympathy for the torturers as well as the tortured. We hear Lane McCotter,
Javal Davis, and Lynddie England in their own words, and reading them is as
difficult as reading the depictions of violence and torture. Of all the urges
one feels reading abu ghraib arias,
the urge to applaud is distant. A triumphant ovation and bow from the
performers would be a strangely celebratory way to end a reading of such
difficult content. The audience did end up clapping, of course. But first: we
stared at them and breathed. The room filled with tension. We were there not
only to give voice, but to give breath.
Danny Caine’s poems have appeared in Hobart, Mid-American
Review, Midwestern Gothic, New Ohio Review, and other places. He
is author of the Dispatches from the Factory of Sadness sports
poetry column for Atticus Review's More than Sports Talk. He hails
from Cleveland and lives in Lawrence, Kansas where he works at the Raven
Bookstore and co-edits Beecher's Magazine.
Final page of “abu ghraib arias” by Marwa Helal
this silent crescendo a warped series of starts
and stops like breath abrupt gulps of constellations somewhere on the other
side of these words are heart chambers where they are gasping clenching
clutching for air just air as we stare all we do is stare and stars stare back
with eyes inverted as nout exits day exits night exits day have you seen
ancient temples where confusion transforms into clarity doubts knowing feeling
drawing shapes from punctuated forgetting diffusion is a healing through the
slippery osmosis count sheets of music on music of music and wash their atomic
weight wait i remember the pythagorean theorem is good for shortcuts so move to
the next mark a reminder of how intelligent we are so intelligent it is
frightening us not knowing how we know what we know that we know what theyre
thinking and it paranoias us as verb is reaction on their faces these familiar
faces in the punctuation of all things left unsaid there are bodies punctuated
punctured souls in the punctuation tell me what is seeing without light country
without military without america a guantanamo build a new relationship with
cuba to the tune of gil scott-heron rapping about a new route to china what is
vitality if a life is forced between brackets an ending of lyric so quote your
ability to forget and contract a concentration connecting you thought id say
camp to remind you of our humanity to compare this to holocaust put a halo on
because we are holograms the holograrabs of abu ghrairabs at this point you
should be concentrating like juice in a box flipping pages so grab a colon
while youre at it a colon a colon separates thought there is always separation
c r e a t i n g distance in d i s t a n c e there is leaving and in leaving there
is change reflecting the function of punctuation connecting and separating
indicating the signs youve been looking for in what has not yet been written so
save it while you listen to the ones who need saving do you hear them they are
a symphony arriving and you are singing in this chorus of complicit a choir not
of church nor of ameen in collective prayer not of scratchy microphones at dawn
or of the silence before we break fast it is their chorus when i can see music
in a constellation that is your name is an aria so please join in this
recitative and dont let go
poetry has appeared in Day One and The Offing. Her
other writing has been published in Poets & Writers, the American
Book Review, Entropy Magazine, and elsewhere. More at: marshelal.com or @marwahelal
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child,
remember that you received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing
who might wish to go from our side to yours
or from your side to ours.’…”
The Blues of Joe Darby
I laughed at first I did
not know what I was looking at
a bunch of bodies bending over
a pyramid of tumbling
call me bulls-eye they call me traitor
the pictures were taken
the pictures I gave them
now they are everywhere and I
can’t go home again
call me walking dead call me waking night
I dream they stand on naked
boxes again they back on each other’s
backs again they bloody mouth from
of dogs they hands on sandbagged heads
me talking dead call me waking eye
I gun to sleep again I closet night
no sleep but I would give them up again
I close exposed I wake and listen
I would give them up again
Amiri Baraka once wrote: “Luxury, then, is a way
of/ being ignorant, comfortably.” Yet privilege does more than damage our
vision; it starves the heart. In today’s scripture, in the biblical parable of
Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man’s flaw is not merely being unable to see
Lazarus in pain right outside his gate; after his death, when the rich man
looks up from Hades, he clearly recognizes Lazarus next to Abraham in heaven
and begs Abraham to ask Lazarus for a bit of water to cool his torment. The
rich man knows Lazarus by name but even in hell does not see fit to address him
Friends, if you have been reading along with this blog,
I want to thank you doubly. First, for participating in this journey, and
second, for being open enough to confront things that one would rather not. In
an Israeli story I taught today, “Hayuta’s Engagement Party,” a Holocaust
survivor is asked by his daughter and granddaughter to not embarrass the family
at the engagement party by launching into another of his monologues about life in
the camps. We talked in class about the embarrassing difficulty of being “Grandpa
Mendels,” people who are compelled to tell a difficult story, if only to lessen
their own burden. No one wants to be this person, dragging down the collective
mood, by reminding us of what is outside our bubble. I’m extremely aware of how
imbalanced this whole project might seem at this point; I was surprised when I
met someone who presumed that I would be an angry person because of Sand
Opera. (On the contrary, I’m easy-going in actual life, which surprised my
acquaintance.) Joe Darby, one of the heroes of the "abu ghraib arias," told the truth about what was happening in the prison and reported it to a military investigator; but this moment of truth-telling
also branded him an outsider among his fellow military personnel, and made him
extremely vulnerable. Some have accused Darby of being a traitor, and
threatened his life. Read more here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/exposing-the-truth-of-abu-ghraib/
Roy Scranton, a veteran of the Iraq War himself, has
himself done some truth-telling. At the end of his piece in Rolling Stone, he
As I sat over
my vodka on my last night in Iraq, looking back at my service there and
considering what I'd seen and what I'd heard, especially from Iraqis
themselves, I realized it didn't matter what we'd intended. What mattered was
what we'd done. We'd invaded a sovereign nation on a pretense, fucked up the
lives of 30 million people, started a bitter, bloody civil war by pitting one
religious sect against another, then left and pretended it had nothing to do
with us. We'd helped strengthen fundamentalist religious extremists in the
Middle East and put intellectuals, journalists and activists at risk. A few
people made a whole bunch of money, and a whole nation was left in shambles.
Whether or not breaking Iraq into pieces had been the plan from the beginning,
as some evidence suggests, the war had been nothing but a murderous hustle. The
politicians who ran the war had shown no higher ideals than robbery and
plunder, and I'd been nothing but their thug.
A couple years later, he contributes “Blue Falcon Blues,”
a poetic voice piece that situates us back in the confusions of being a soldier,
a soldier who betrays his fellow soldiers (a “blue falcon”).
Blues (in response to “The Blues of Joe Darby”) by Roy Scranton
One of us plays
possum, one of us rode a blog, one of us wrote press releases, one croaked, one
went to Rome, one was a real blue falcon. When we do cowboys & indians, you
get to pick which poke—Graner, England, Darby—but “fuck me if I’m an injun’.”
The important thing, remember, is REDACTED was a Really Bad Dude.
and then there’s treason: the important thing is bros before hadjis. The
important thing is stick together. The important thing is the military-civilian
divide, remind those Mall-of-America pogues they’ll never really understand how complicated
it was, what a profound moral burden it was to be cocksmack in a war of
choice, illegal invasion, a shameless dumb-show of collective evil, or gross
negligence, or wanton stupidity, or fuck it. The important thing is shine your
dick all green, keep showing it to people, keep reminding your mom her boy’s a
real anus-pop. (Then duck and grin, mutter “aw shucks”).
Joe Darby was a
real blue falcon. Joe Darby got Americans killed. It wasn’t the torture, see,
per se, because that’s Truly a question of Profound Moral Complexity. The
problem was optics. The important thing is you gotta pick slides, and Joe Darby
made America sad. The important thing is we gotta stink together.
buffalo. But when I stare in the airport, below the mascara it’s Darby. Not
Optimus Prime, just a cunty blue falcon, just some gringo whose dick is too
small to believe it makes him righteous. America’s a word on a map, see, and
the fact is, a shit-ton of brown people died for cheap gasoline, or face, or
something even dumber, or nothing. Whatever secrets I had, I’ll tell. Whatever
pictures, show. Not because I’m especially good or bad or holy, but just
because writing is a word for betrayal.
because I’m England. I’m Darby because I’m Graner. Because I’m Davis. Because
I’m McCotter. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m REDACTED.
Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m you.
One of us
betrays hisself. One of us betrays his battle. One of us betrays the pen. One
of us betrays his sweetpea. One of us betrays the bromance. One of us betrays
his race. One of us betrays a nation. One of us betrays us all.
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