Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Thank You


On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
            --John 20
Top of Form

May the stones be rolled away. May the prisoners be freed. May the tombs be emptied. May the wars end. May the wounds be healed. May we believe. May we have mercy on ourselves and others. May mourning become morning. May we turn to the Light.

Hi Philip,
Since I first started reading your book I have had Matt 6: 22-23 in my head, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Over the years I have talked about this passage with a few friends.  It has struck me that the person in the passage thinks he is seeing light but it is really darkness.  He thinks his “light” is good, but it is really evil. I can’t help but feel that this is somewhat true for those perpetrating such horrible acts upon fellow humans as described in your book. They thought they were doing good. They thought that they were seeing light.  Oh, that just makes the darkness more dark. This has been heavy on me until this week when I realized that we are about to remember and celebrate the ultimate example of this. On that darkest of days, those who took Jesus’ life, thought they were doing good by their actions. But thanks be to God that he was able to overcome and turn that ultimate darkness into light. Thanks for taking the time and persevering through the painful task of creating this wonderful book. It is a piece of restoration. It is helping to turn that darkness into light.


Steve Conner

Thank you to everyone who participated in this Lenten Journey, as contributors and readers, both the below participants and Maureen Doallas, who was writing her own poems in response to these poems, and sharing all of it widely.

1.      Luke Hankins & “Compline” (2/10/16)
2.      Hilary Plum & “Illumination” (2/11)
3.      Peter Molin & “Lane McCotter” (2/12)
4.      Paul Lauritzen & “In the name” (2/13)
5.      Tyrone Williams & “The Blues of Javal” and “In the beginning” (2/14)
6.      Timothy Liu & “The Blues of Javal Davis” (2/15)
7.      Hayan Charara & “next day,” (“Animals”) (2/16)
8.      Joe Hoover & Peter Molin & “The Blues of Charles Graner” (2/17)
9.      Shakir Mustafa & “his name is G” (2/18)
10.   Susan Averna & “the third day” (2/19)
11.   Wafaa Bilal & “Handling the Koran”(2/20)
12.   Raymond Lennon & “The Blues of Ken Davis” (2/21)
13.   Marwa Helal & Peter Molin & “The Blues of Lynddie England” (2/22)
14.   Christopher Allen-Doucot & “now I am what I saw” (2/23)
15.   Huda Al-Marashi & “Muslim Burial” (2/24)
16.   Roy Scranton & “Joe Darby” (2/25)
17.   Danny Caine & Marwa Helal & final page of “abu ghraib arias” (2/26)
18.   Solmaz Sharif & “Woman Mourning Son,” (“Drone”) (2/27)
19.   Layla Azmi Goushey & Sarah Browning & “Recipe from the Abbasid” (2/28)
20.   Nawal Nasrallah & “Recipe from the Abbasid”  (2/29)
21.   Nawal Nasrallah & Zeina Hashem Beck & “A Toast” (3/1)
22.   Mary Austin Speaker & Joe Hall & “Home Sweet Home” (3/2)
23.   Pamela Hart & “The Iraqi Curator’s PowerPoint” (3/3)
24.   David Roderick & “Black Site Q” (3/4)
25.   Dunya Mikhail & Salih Altoma & “Asymmetries” (“Bag of Bones”) (3/5)
26.   Naomi Shihab Nye & “Salaam Epigrams,” (“Gate A-4”) (3/6)
27.   Charles Ellenbogen & “War Stories” (3/7)
28.   Philip Metres & “when the bombs fell,” (prose pieces) (3/8)
29.   Danny Caine & “In the cell of else” (3/9)
30.   Amy Breau & “I had no names” (3/10) (prose piece)
31.   Craig Santos Perez on “She asks, is that man crying” (“from understory”) (3/11)
32.   Fady Joudah & “what does it mean” (“Mimesis”) (3/12)
33.   Jeff Gundy &  Dante Di Stefano & “When I Was a Child” (3/13)
34.   Marwa Helal & Angele Ellis & “Black Site (Exhibit I).” (3/14)
35.   Philip Metres & “Love Potion #42” (3/15)
36.   Kim Stafford & Saddam’s Fingerprints (3/16)
37.   Philip Metres & “Etruscan Cista Handle” (3/17)
38.   Paige Webb & Performance Videos of “Cell/(ph)one” (3/18)
39.   Nomi Stone & “what consequence is a body” (3/19)
40.   Deema K. Shehabi & “in the wake of” (3/20)
41.   Becca J.R. Lachman & “I was planning an essay on imagery” (3/21)
42.   Chris Kempf & “You look at me” (3/22)
43.   Hayan Charara & “As if” (“Usage”) (3/23)
44.   Josie Setzler & “On the flight overseas” (3/24)
45.   William Kelley Woolfitt & “so I could pass the time (3/25)

46.   Priscilla Wathington & Harvey Hix & “Compline” (3/26) 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 46: “Let There Be Light”: Compline, + Priscilla Wathington and Harvey Hix

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 46: “Let There Be Light”: Compline, + Priscilla Wathington and Harvey Hix

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss,
while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

Then God said,
“Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw how good the light was.
God then separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
Thus evening came, and morning followed—the first day.

On Holy Saturday, we live between Crucifixion and Resurrection, past and future, full of uncertainty and hope. George Steiner once called our modern existence as one of Holy Saturday:  “We know of that Good Friday which Christianity holds to have been that of the Cross.  But the non-Christian, the atheist, knows of it as well – the pain, the failure of love, the solitude which are our history and our private fate.  We know also about Sunday. To the Christian  that day signifies an intimation of resurrection of a justice and a love that has conquered death.   If we are non-Christians, we know of that Sunday in analogous terms – the day of liberation from inhumanity and servitude…. Ours is the long day’s journey of the Saturday.  Between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand, and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other.”

I remember when Amy was about to give birth for the first time, we read somewhere that “you can’t give birth with your head.” I’ve been thinking about my resistances to religion, to the life of faith, trying to remind myself that I can’t give birth with my head. How Guy Picciotto of Rites of Spring once sang: “I said I bled/I tried to have the heart/through the head.” And how Kahlil Gibran once wrote: “Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.”

I’m thinking of light, feeling the light. Just as our days tilt toward the sun, each day growing in strength, the pulsing of life all around us strengthens—the suddenness of greens and birdsong, life, life, life. Despite all the literal and figurative nights we endure, the violence and war and torture and despair and heart-brokenness, there is this pulsing, this turning toward the light, seed-hopeful. We dream of being broken open into what we are meant to become.

I’m thinking of what my Iraqi and Afghani friends have endured at the hands of our empire. Of Shakir, Nawal, Salih, Dunya, Huda, Sinan, Wafaa, Zohra. I’m thinking of those who remain in Guantanamo. Of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. I’m thinking of all the victims of war and hatred, of black sites and drone strikes, of cluster bombs and depleted uranium, of prison cells and prison camps, and, closer to home, of racial oppression and sexual violence, of all our hurting hurting others. And the torment we visit upon ourselves. I’m thinking of all of us who find no reason to get up in the morning and nonetheless still get up in the morning, who wake with the light because there is something in us that lives in the light. There is something sleeping in us that rises with the day.

Thanks to Priscilla Wathington and Harvey Hix for their dialogues with “Compline.”

“And We Are Witnesses Of It” by Priscilla Wathington
            -a meditation on “Compline,” from Sand Opera

That     the tomb be opened, glass removed from the observatory’s blood-shot eye, that

we        who stood muzzled while a saw hunted its own dust would

await    a breathing into the dust’s nostrils, a bay of bones conferred

a          new leather to contain the

blessed man, pulp of

hope    remade by its own bloom.

My       fleeced lips unfit to drink this suffering garden of

God     to look into the dusk of olives for the

open    unwrapped body of God

the       prison guards rolled back like a stone 

spine    leavened. Remake the cotton

binding            into garments, forgive us

our       lumbering


On Easter in Palestine, I used to hear my friends and family members exchange this call-and-response greeting in Arabic: “Christ has risen / Truly risen / And we are witnesses of it.” Philip Metres’s poem, “Compline” is the final thought in a sober volume about the multitude of ways we have failed to approach each other as equal creations. It traces our failure of vision and how wed we are to a “spine” way of thinking. The poem acknowledges that this dark day has already been lived by many with long echoes that will spread beyond them and into the night. Despite this, “Compline” blesses its readers with a reminder and invocation: “That we await a blessed hope.” 

--Priscilla Wathington is a consulting editor to the children’s human rights group, Defense for Children International - Palestine. Her poems have recently appeared in Spark and Echo Arts, Sukoon, Mizna and The Normal School. 

“Echoes” by H.L. Hix

My God, my God, open the spine binding our sight.

My God, my God, open the spine binding my sight.

Their God, their God, open the spine binding my sight.

Their God, their God, break the spine binding my sight.

Their God, their God, break the bonds binding my sight.

Their God, their God, break the bonds binding my hearing.

Their God, their God, break the bonds chafing my hearing.

Our God, our God, break the bonds chafing my hearing.

Our God, our God, break my bonds, repair my hearing.

Our God, our God, break my bonds, restore my sight.

Any God, any God, break my bonds, restore my sight.

All Gods, all Gods, break their bonds, restore my sight.

--H.L. Hix is a poet and the author of numerous books, most recently American Anger (2016).

Friday, March 25, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 45: Mercy Mercy Each: Black Site (Exhibit Q) and William Kelley Woolfitt

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 45: Mercy Mercy Each: Black Site (Exhibit Q) and William Kelley Woolfitt

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

For all my foes I am an object of reproach,
a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends;
they who see me abroad flee from me.
I am forgotten like the unremembered dead;
I am like a dish that is broken.
            --Psalm 31

Last night was the beginning of the Easter Triduum, the three days of Easter, beginning with Holy Thursday, when the priest bends to his knees to wash the feet of his parishioners. In Rome, Pope Francis spoke about God’s infinite mercy. In his words:

Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person. This is why effusive gratitude is the proper response: we have to go the party, to put on our best clothes, to cast off the rancour of the elder brother, to rejoice and give thanks… Only in this way, participating fully in such rejoicing, is it possible to think straight, to ask for forgiveness, and see more clearly how to make up for the evil we have committed…. 

We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them. But we too remember that each of us knows the extent to which we too are often blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology. We feel that our soul thirsts for spirituality, not for a lack of Living Water which we only sip from, but because of an excessive “bubbly” spirituality, a “light” spirituality. We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click. We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters, to the Lord’s flock, to the sheep who wait for the voice of their shepherds.

(I’ve been struck, reading Scripture during this Lenten season, how much of the Gospel writing has precursors in the Hebrew Scripture, particularly in the Psalms and Isaiah. Either Jesus consciously echoed such voices during his life, or the writers of the Gospels wrote him as the fulfillment of longings within Hebrew Scripture, or both.)

Today is Good Friday, the day that commemorates Jesus’s crucifixion. What we have today is a person suffering the most cruel torture, torture unto death. Torture at the hands of those who felt Jesus was dangerous, a risk to security and the social orders. Like Mohamed Farag Bashmilah, rendered into black sites and tortured there.

Thanks to William Kelley Woolfitt for his contribution and response to “Black Site (Exhibit Q).”  

                                                                                                                                                                                   "so I could pass the time…” response by William Kelley Woolfitt

Two Digital Watches
Not for long, he marks the hours with a prayer chart, a watch with a map of the world. I did not have information I needed, he says. Guards take the watch, tape outside the glass another watch, its straps cut away. Time drags, he doesn’t look at the face.
When given plastic bottles with the labels stripped, filled from a large drum, he washes his head and feet for prayer, drinks what might be tainted, impure, he cannot know.
No Mat
Best efforts, he says. He kneels, lowers himself, touches his flat palms and forehead to the gray floor, the covering, the dirt.
Fastened to an iron bolt, the chain lets him reach the bucket-toilet, freights his body, he can raise his right hand no higher than his waist.
The Sound of Waves
The speakers blast music, then pause, and he listens for the call of a far mosque—then a recorded ocean, seagulls, waves breaking a shore.

William Woolfitt is the author of the poetry collections Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, 2016). He edits Speaking of Marvels 
(, a gathering of interviews with chapbook and novella authors. His poems and stories have appeared in Blackbird, Image, Tin House, Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Epoch, and other journals.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 44: My Feet (Flying While Arab) + Josie Setzler

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 44: My Feet (Flying While Arab) + Josie Setzler

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
            --John 13

I find the synchronicities between daily Scripture and the poems uncanny; both John and my poem have to do with exposing one’s (dirty) feet! Here, Simon Peter first refuses to have Jesus wash his feet. After all, he calls Jesus his Master, and looks up to him with a certain kind of awe. It’s hard to know whether he is shocked and horrified that Jesus might bend to clean his feet, or whether he secretly wants him to do it—after all, he asks the question. But then when Jesus says that he must, or else there is no future between them, Simon Peter offers up not only his feet, but his hands and head. His whole body, his whole self.

In the poem below, my taking off my shoes—in the days after the Richard Reid failed shoe-bombing episode in 2002—became an occasion for a woman to suspect me of terrorism. FWA: Flying While Arab. I’ve thought about that incident often over the years, and how I failed to answer her paranoid gaze. The poem became a way of answering.

Thanks to Josie Setzler for her commentary!

“The poem with the sticky eyes” by Josie Setzler

Her gaze widened and neck craned as I (her eyes) slowly removed (her eyes) my shoes.

As I read Metres’s poem, I could feel the woman’s eyes sticking to him, just as they stuck to the words in this sentence. It was all I remembered of the poem at first reading. This was the poem with the sticky eyes. I could feel them on my own body as well, even though as a white woman of Dutch ancestry, I knew that Americans weren’t thinking of me when they repeated Homeland Security’s warning: “See something, say something.” 

Sometimes I’m afraid I’m carrying a bomb.

Yet it is the eyes themselves that are the weapon. Penetrating this man’s very sense of himself, they violate him. Violate…violence…eyes as bombs. The word violate comes from the Latin violare, “to treat with violence, outrage, dishonor.” Violare is thought to be an irregular derivative of vis, “strength, force, power, energy.”  And now I recall that I am white and those eyes are my eyes. I move through my days in a mostly white bubble and am barely aware of how I am protected by the ‘vis’ of my whiteness. Maybe my eyes have done a darting, shifting thing when I have been taken by surprise by someone who looks different from me.  Why do my eyes do that?

Later, visiting a Quaker meeting, I sat among scattered chairs.

Funny that the poet should mention the scattered chairs. Maybe it’s a relief that they are not all lined up, focused, like the sight on a gun.

On the shores of breathing, all eyes shut I waded. Silence our rudder, silence our harbor.

Silence is another relief. And now we read that the diffused space of silence acts as a rudder. A rudder gives direction, yet silence’s power to direct is different from the power of those fiercely focused eyes. Identity finds safe harbor when silence gives it precious space.

I’m still puzzling over the poem’s transition from those violating eyes to this Quaker meeting. I have trusted silence myself for some years now, trying to stay faithful to a centering prayer practice. Earlier it was Zen. My Zen teacher used to recommend that we keep our eyes half open, cast down and softly focused on a spot on the floor in front of us. He asked us to gentle our gaze. Gentling my gaze is never easy--in any part of my day. I need help. Poetry conspires with the silence to gentle not only my eyes, but my heart and mind as well.  I am deeply grateful.

The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be filled with light. --Mt 6: 22

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 43: What Have We Done With Us? + Yahia Lababidi and Hayan Charara

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 43: What Have We Done With Us? + Yahia Lababidi and Hayan Charara

Lord, in your great love, answer me.

For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
--Psalm 69

From “Homefront/Removes” (Sand Opera)

) (

As if, somehow, I were responsible. Patriotism is a feeling, the student wrote, that is rotted deep inside every one of us, and it’s hard to let something such as your country go to shame. The photos of hijackers in the newspaper looked like a Warhol of our family album (the women oddly absent), portraits bleared in displaced layers of ink. Who fed you, who changed you, who memorized your hands, who breathed you in? The ex-editor of Life lays down the old rule of thumb in journalism: one person dead in your paper’s hometown equals five dead the next town over equals fifty dead in the next state or 5,000 dead in China. The homeland is late blue, and tastes of metal, like blood in the mouth. My cousins my demons my plotting and foiled selves, what have you done, what have we done with us?

“Breath” by Yahia Lababidi

Beneath the intricate network of noise
there’s a still more persistent tapestry
woven of whispers, murmurs and chants

It’s the heaving breath of the very earth
carrying along the prayer of all things:
trees, ants, stones, creeks and mountains, alike

All giving silent thanks and remembrance
each moment, as a tug on a rosary bead
while we hurry past, heedless of the mysteries

And, yet, every secret wants to be told
every shy creature to approach and trust us
if we patiently listen, with all our senses.

--Yahia Lababidi, Egyptian-American, is the author of 6 books of poetry and prose. “Breath” can be found in his latest collection, Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems(1993-2015) available for pre-order  here:

“Usage” by Hayan Charara

An assumption, a pejorative, an honest language,
an honorable death. In grade school, I refused to accept
the mayor’s handshake; he smiled at everyone except
people with names like mine. I was born here.
I didn’t have to adopt America, but I adapted to it.
You understand: a man must be averse to opinions
that have adverse impacts on whether he lives
or dies. “Before taking any advice, know the language
of those who seek to advise you.” Certain words
affected me. Sand nigger, I was called. Camel jockey.
What was the effect? While I already muttered
under my breath, I did so even more. I am not
altogether sure we can all together come. Everything
was not all right. Everything is not all right.
Imagine poetry without allusions to Shakespeare,
Greek mythology, the Bible; or allusions without
the adjectives “fanatical,” “extremist,” “Islamic,”
“right,” “left,” “Christian,” “conservative,” “liberal.”
Language written or translated into a single tongue
gives the illusion of tradition. A lot of people murder
language—a lot fully aware. Among all the dead,
choose between “us” and “them.” Among all the names
for the dead—mother, father, brother, sister,
husband, wife, child, friend, colleague, neighbor,
teacher, student, stranger—choose between
“citizen” and “terrorist.” And poet? Immoral,
yes, but never amoral? Large amounts, the number
between 75 and 90 percent of the estimated
150 million to 1 billion—civilians—killed during wars,
over all of recorded human history. Anxious is “worried”
or “apprehensive.” American poetry, Americans.
Young, I learned anyone born here could become
President. Older, I can point to any one of a hundred
reasons why this is a lie. Anyway, I don’t want to be
President, not of a country, or club, not here or there,
not anywhere. He said, “I turned the car around because
it began raining bombs.” There’s no chance of ambiguity—
an as here could mean “because” or “when”; it makes
no difference—he saw the sky, felt the ground,
knew what would come next; it matters little
when the heart rate in less than a second jumps from
70 to 200 beats per minute. What they did
to my grandfather was awful—its wretchedness,
awe-inspiring; its cruelty, terrible; it was awfully
hard to forget. Just after 8:46AM, I wondered awhile
what would happen next. At 9:03AM, I knew
there was going to be trouble for a while to come.
When in her grief the woman said, “We’re going
to hurt them bad,” she meant to say, “We’re going
to hurt them badly.” For seventeen days, during
air strikes, my grandfather slept on a cot beside
a kerosene lamp in the basement of his house. Besides
a few days worth of pills, and a gallon of water,
he had nothing else to eat or drink. Given these conditions,
none of us were surprised that on the eighteenth day,
he died. Besides, he was eighty-two years old.
I can write what I please. I don’t need to ask, May I?
Like a song: men with capital meet in the Capitol
in the nation’s capital. Any disagreements, censored;
those making them—poets, dissenters, activists—
censured. The aftermath, approximately 655,000
people killed. “The Human Cost of War in Iraq:
A Mortality Study, 2002-2006,” Bloomsburg School
of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore,
Maryland); School of Medicine, Al Mustansiriya University
(Baghdad, Iraq); in cooperation with the Center
for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts).
The figure just cited—655,000 dead—resulted from
a household survey conducted at actual sites, in Iraq,
not the Pentagon, or White House, or a newsroom,
or someone’s imagination. Of course, language has been
corrupted. Look, the President, who speaks coarsely,
says, “We must stay the course.” The problem with
“Let your conscience be your guide” is you must first
be aware, conscious, of the fact that a moral principle
is a subjective thing. I wonder: when one “smokes ‘em
out of a hole,” if the person doing the smoking
is conscious of his conscience at work. Am I fully conscious
of how I arrived at this? The continual dissemination
of similar images and ideas. The continual aired footage
of planes striking the towers, the towers crumbling
to the streets, dust, screams, a continuous reel of destruction,
fear, as if the attacks were happening twenty-four hours
a day, every day, any time. For a while, I couldn’t care less
about war. Then I saw corpses, of boys, who looked
just like me. This was 1982, at age ten. Ever since,
I couldn’t care less why anyone would want it.
In 1982, any one of those boys could have been me.
Now, it’s any one of those dead men could be me.
The Secretary of State offered such counsel
to the ambassadors of the world that the United Nations
Security Council nodded in favor of war. Criterion
easily becomes criteria. Even easier: to no longer
require either. The data turned out false. The doctrine
of preemption ultimately negated its need. While we
both speak English, our languages are so different from
each other, yours might as well be Greek to me.
When the black man in the park asked, “Are you
Mexican, Puerto Rican, or are you Pakistani?”
and I said, “I’m Arab,” and he replied, “Damn.
Someone don’t like you very much,” I understood
perfectly what he meant. The President alluded
to the Crusades because of (not due to) a lack
of knowledge. Later, he retracted the statement,
worried it might offend the Middle East;
it never occurred to him the offense taken was due to
the bombs shredding them to bits and pieces. “You are
either with us or with the terrorists” (September 20, 2001).
“You’re either with us or against us” (November 6, 2001).
The day after, the disc jockey advocated, on air,
a thirty-three cent solution (the cost of a bullet)
to the problem of terrorists in ur midst—he meant
in New York; also, by terrorists, I wonder, did he know
he meant cab drivers, hot dog vendors, students, bankers,
neighbors, passers-by, New Yorkers, Americans;
did he know he also meant Sikhs, Hindus, Iranians,
Africans, Asians; did he know, too, he meant Christians,
 Jews, Buddhists, Atheists; did he realize he was eliciting
a violent response, on the radio, in the afternoon?
Among those who did not find the remark at all illicit:
the owners of the radio station, the FCC, the mayor,
the governor, members of the House, the Senate,
the President of the United States. Emigrate is better
than immigrate. Proof: no such thing as illegal emigration.
Further proof: emigration is never an election issue.
I heard enthusiastic speeches. They hate our freedoms,
our way of life, our this, that, and the other, and so on
(not etc). Not everyone agreed every one not “with us”
was “against us.” Detroit was farther from home
than my father ever imagined. He convinced himself
soon after arriving here he had ventured further
than he should have. Fewer people live in his hometown
than when he left, in 1966. The number, even less,
following thirty-four straight days of aerial bombardment.
First (not firstly) my father spoke Arabic; second
(not secondly) he spoke broken English; third (not thirdly)
he spoke Arabic at home and English at work;
fourth (not fourthly) he refused to speak English
anymore. Not every poem is good. Not every poem
does well. Not every poem is well, either. Nor does
every poem do good. “To grow the economy”
is more than jargon. Can a democracy grow
without violence? Ours didn’t. They still plan to grow
tomatoes this year, despite what was done.
Several men, civilian workers, identified as enemies,
were hanged on a bridge, bodies torched, corpses
swaying in the breeze. Photographs of the dead
were hung with care. I can hardly describe what is
going on. Day after day, he told himself, “I am
an American. I eat apple pie. I watch baseball.
I speak American English. I read American poetry.
I was born in Detroit, a city as American as it gets.
I vote. I work. I pay taxes, too many taxes. I own a car.
I make mortgage payments. I am not hungry. I worry
less than the rest of the world. I could stand to lose
a few pounds. I eat several types of cuisine
on a regular basis. I flush toilets. I let the faucet drip.
I have central air-conditioning. I will never starve
to death or experience famine. I will never die
of malaria. I can say whatever the fuck I please.”
Even words succumbed; hopefully turned into
a kind of joke; hopeful, a slur. However, I use the words,
but less, with more care. The President implied
compassion; but inferred otherwise. This is not
meant to be ingenious. Nor is it ingenuous.
The more he got into it, the more he saw poetry,
like language, was in a constant state of becoming.
Regardless, or because of this, he welcomed the misuse
of language. Language is its own worst enemy—
it’s the snake devouring its own tail. They thought
of us not kind of or sort of but as somewhat American.
Lie: “To recline or rest on a surface?” No. “To put
or place something?” No. Depleted uranium, heavy
like lead; its use—uranium shells—led to birth defects.
When in his anger the man said, “We’re going
to teach them a lesson,” I wonder what he thought
they would learn. In a war, a soldier is less likely
to die than a civilian. He looks like he hates our freedoms.
You don’t know them like I do. He looks as if he hates
our freedoms. You don’t know them as I do.
When in his sorrow my father said, “Everybody
loose in war,” I knew exactly what he meant. It may be
poets should fight wars. Maybe then, metaphors—
not bodies, not hillsides, not hospitals, not schools—
will explode. I might have watched the popular sitcom
if not for my family­—they were under attack,
they might have died. Others may have been laughing
at jokes while bodies were being torn apart.
I could not risk that kind of laughter. Of all the media
covering war, which medium best abolishes the truth?
I deceive myself. I will deceive you myself. In the Bronx,
I passed as Puerto Rican. I passed as Greek in Queens,
also Brazilian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, even a famous,
good-looking American movie actor. As Iranian
in Manhattan. At the mall in New Jersey,
the sales clerk guessed Italian. Where Henry Ford
was born, my hometown, I always pass as Arab.
I may look like the men in the great paintings
of the Near East but their lives, their ways, I assure you,
are in the past. Plus, except in those paintings,
or at the movies, I never saw Arabs with multiple wives,
or who rode camels, lived in silk tents, drank from
desert wells; moreover, it’s time to move past that.
Did language precede violence? Can violence proceed
without language? It broke my father’s heart
to talk about the principle of equal justice.
The news aired several quotations from the airline
passengers, one of whom was a middle-aged man
with children, who said, “I didn’t feel safe with them
on board.” He used the word “them” though only one,
an Arab, was on the plane. Being from Detroit,
I couldn’t help but think of Rosa Parks.
Then I got angry. I said to the TV, to no one
in particular, “If you don’t feel safe, then you
get off the goddamn plane.” You can quote me
on that. I was really angry­—not real angry,
but really angry. The reason? A poet asked me
why I didn’t write poems about Muslim and Arab
violence against others, and I said I did. And then
he said he meant violence against Americans and Israelis,
respectively, and I said I did, and before I could
go on he interrupted to ask why I didn’t write
poems about mothers who sent their sons and daughters
on suicide missions. As if, as if, as if. I respectfully
decline to answer any more questions. Write your own
goddamn poem! Does this poem gratify the physical senses?
Does it use sensuous language? It certainly does not
attempt to gratify those senses associated with
sexual pleasure. In this way, it may not be a sensual poem.
However, men have been known to experience
sexual gratification in situations involving power,
especially over women, other men, life, and language.
My father said, “No matter how angry they make you,
invite the agents in the house, offer them coffee,
be polite. If they stay long, ask them to sit. Otherwise,
they will try to set you straight.”  When in his
frustration he said, “Should of, could of, would of,”
he meant, “Stop, leave me alone, I refuse to examine
the problem further.” Because (not since) the terrorists
attacked us, we became more like the rest of the world
than ever before. This is supposed to be a poem;
it is supposed to be in a conversation with you.
Be sure and participate. “No language is more violent
than another,” he said. Then he laughed, and said,
“Except the one you use.”  Do conflicts of interest
exist when governments award wartime contracts
to companies that have close ties to government officials?
From 1995 to 2000, Dick Cheney, Vice President
of the United States, was CEO of Halliburton,
which is headquartered in Houston, Texas,
near Bush International Airport. Would they benefit
themselves by declaring war? Please send those men
back home. My grandfather lay there unconscious.
For days, there was no water, no medicine, nothing
to eat. The soldiers left their footprints at the doorstep.
His sons and daughters, they’re now grieving him.
“Try not to make too much of it” was the advice given
after two Homeland Security agents visited my house,
not once, not twice, but three times. I’m waiting for
my right mind. The language is a long ways from here.
After the bombs fell, I called every night to find out
whether my father was alive or dead. He always asked,
“How’s the weather there?” Soon enough, he assured me,
things would return to normal, that (not where)
a ceasefire was on the way. Although (not while)
I spoke English with my father, he replied in Arabic.
Then I wondered, who’s to decide whose language it is
anyway—you, me? your mother, father, books,
perspective, sky, earth, ground, dirt, dearly departed,
customs, energy, sadness, fear, spirit, poetry, God,
dog, cat, sister, brother, daughter, family, you, poems,
nights, thoughts, secrets, habits, lines, grievances,
breaks, memories, nightmares, mornings, faith, desire,
sex, funerals, metaphors, histories, names, tongues,
syntax, coffee, smoke, eyes, addiction, witness, paper,
fingers, skin, you, your, you’re here, there, the sky,
the rain, the past, sleep, rest, live, stop, go, breathe

--Hayan Charara, from Something Sinister. Go buy it!