Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sand Opera Journey Day 18: Woman Mourning Son, + Solmaz Sharif's "Look" and the Problem of Drone Warfare

Sand Opera Journey Day 18

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.”

I 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.

“Woman Mourning Son”      by Philip Metres

Najaf, Iraq 

I pull up the blinds, they screech in retreat,
mad grackles beaking for space on the lawn.
I flip open the news and she flutters out,
trailing the blot of her shadow. I yawn,

her mouth yawns and yawns. Like wings, her chador
unfurls over a bare, bleached street. She looks
almost like 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
tucked so gently beneath the wing. And now
the blot of that shadow’s a flailing bat,

a ragged flag—this black-clad woman’s hands
open and skyward, as if she wants to vault
the blot of this shadow. From above, it looks
just like whirling, a waltz with no one

but chadors and shadows. Now she’s lost
her face in the ink. The road is a white
sheet. Somewhere someone’s hands danced
over a keyboard to deliver the ordnance. 

Look               By Solmaz Sharif

It matters what you call a thing: Exquisite a lover called me.

Whereas Well, 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;

Whereas I felt the need to clarify: You would put up with
       TORTURE, you mean and he proclaimed: Yes;

Whereas what is your life;

Whereas 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 it
        on a hand-held camcorder and I said That’s a gun as I
        trained the lens on a rusting GUN-TYPE WEAPON and
        That’s Iraq as I zoomed over the river;

Whereas it could take as long as 16 seconds between
         the trigger pulled in Las Vegas and the Hellfire missile
         landing in Mazar-e-Sharif, after which they will ask
         Did we hit a child? No. A dog. they will answer themselves;

Whereas the federal judge at the sentencing hearing said
         I want to make sure I pronounce the defendant’s name

Whereas this lover would pronounce my name and call me
         Exquisite and LAY the floor lamp across the floor so that
         we would not see each other by DIRECT ILLUMINATION,
         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 through
         the wardrobe;
Whereas 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;
Whereas You mean I should be sent MISSING because of my family
 and he answered Yes. That’s exactly what I mean,
         adding that his wife helped draft the PATRIOT Act;

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 letter I
         wrote to cast the defendant in a loving light;
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;
Whereas ye 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, the Hellfire
         missile, and A dog, they will answer themselves;
Whereas A 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)

Born in 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 2016.

Other drone-related poems:
“Drone” by Solmaz Sharif
“Bad Intelligence” by Corey Van Landingham
“A Poem for President Drone” by Michael Robbins

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