1/ THE MOUTH
Not English Somali Italian French the mouth
blown open in the Toyota battle wagon at KM4
speaks in a language never heard before.
Not the Absolute Speaker of the News,
not crisis chatter's famine/flame,
the mouth blown open at KM4
speaks in a language never heard before.
Speaks back to the dead at KM4,
old men in macawis, beards dyed with henna,
the women wearing blue jeans under black chadors.
Nothing solved or resolved, exactly as they were,
the old wars still flickering in the auras round their faces,
the mouth of smoke at KM4
mouths syllables of smoke never heard before.
2/ THE CONCERT
in smooth still sun moves in
and out of synch
with the violin
playing at the villa —
the bow attacking the strings looks like a hand
making some frantic motion to come closer, go away —
it's hard to say what's being said,
who's being summoned from the dead,
from red sand drifting
across the sheen of the shining floor.
The pianist's hands taking wing to hover above a chord
become the flight path
of a marabou stork crashing down
on carrion, the piano levitating up and up
above red sand that it starts to float across
the way a camel's humps
far off in the mirage rise and fall fall and rise
until mirage overbrims itself
and everything into its shimmering disappears.
And the ones who died the day before,
blown up at the crossroads at KM4,
scanning the notice board for scholarship results,
put their fingers to their names as the onlookers applaud.
The little man carved out of bone
shouts something to the world the world can't hear.
All around him the roads, lost in drifted, deep red sand,
die out in sun just clearing the plain.
Dried out, faded, he makes an invocation at an altar:
an AK-47 stood up on its butt end in a pile of rock.
The AK talks the talk of what guns talk —
not rage or death or clichés of killing,
but specs of what it means to be fired off in the air.
No fear when it jams, no enemy running away,
no feeling like a river overflowing in a cloudburst —
forget all that: the little man of bone is not the streaming head
of the rivergod roaring at Achilles; nor dead Patroclos
complaining in a dream how Achilles has forgotten him.
The AK wants to tell a different truth —
a truth ungarbled that is so obvious
no one could possibly mistake its meaning.
If you look down the cyclops-eye of the barrel
what you'll see is a boy with trousers
rolled above his ankles.
You'll see a mouth of bone moving in syllables
that have the rapid-fire clarity
of a weapon that can fire 600 rounds a minute.
4/ "BEFORE HE BLEW HIMSELF UP, HE LIKED TO PLAY AT GAMES WITH OTHER YOUTHS."
And there, among the dead, appearing beside your tent flap,
at your elbow in the mess hall,
waiting to use, or just leaving, the showers and latrine,
the boy with his trousers rolled appears
like an afterimage burned into an antique computer screen,
haunting whatever the cursor tries to track.
So he liked to play at games with other youths?
The English has the slightly
too-formal sound of someone
being poured through the sieve of another language.
Syllable after syllable
piling up and up until the boy,
buried to the neck,
slowly vanishes into overtones that are and are not his.
As if he were a solid melting to liquid turning to gas feeding a flame.
5/ TIME TO FORGET
There's a camel a goat a sandal left in red sand.
Over there's a water tower, under that's the bore hole
and here the body asks and asks about the role
it's asked to play: no matter how it's dressed.
Like a nomad like a journalist like the hyena
who eats even the bones
and shits bone-white scat from the calcium.
No matter if it sleeps under a dome
of UNHCR plastic, baby blue in the sun,
or hides in a spider hole
or walks around in uniform behind plate glass,
the body makes itself known before it becomes unknown.
On the television the blade runner is facing down the skinjob,
and of the two, who is the more human?
On the table there isn't a glass of whiskey but the ghost of whiskey
that keeps whispering, It's OK to be this way, nobody will know.
And then the boy who rolls his pantlegs
up above his ankles because to let them drag along the ground
is to be unclean turns right before your eyes into a skeleton.
6/ THE COMING
At KM4 a wall of leaves spits green into the air
and hangs there beautiful and repulsive.
Between the leaves, in the interstices where birds
don't stir in sun and heat, the smell of raw camel meat
wakes you to the vision of what keeps going on in the wound —
the wound inside your head that you more or less shut out
as you go round and round the roundabout
at KM4 where your friends the soldiers in the Casspir
are all pretending to be dead.
The TV Ken doll anchor keeps complaining to their corpses,
Hey, can't you get my flak jacket adjusted
so it doesn't crush my collar?
Leaves softly undulating, little waves of leaves undergoing shifts
between astral blue and green, leaves always breaking on leaves
in the little breeze that the Casspir passing stirs in the heat —
stirring the memory of putting your fingers
in the wounds of a blast wall at KM4 as if you were
doubting Thomas waiting for Christ to appear:
thumb-sized holes for AK-47s,
fist-sized for twenty caliber, both fists for fifty.
Out of a mouth of bone that lives inside
the darkness in a stone like a cricket hidden
somewhere inside a dark house, the incessant stridulation
sounds like the song, I would love to be martyred in
Allah's Cause and then get resurrected
and then get martyred and then get resurrected
again and then get martyred...
If your trouser legs drag on
the ground you're sullied, you're unclean.
Be a Fedayeen. Be a Marine. On the other side
of language where none of the concepts stick
the boy with his trousers rolled liked
what he called "the rap music"
and a t-shirt emblazoned with the word "Knicks."
8/ AT COURT
Off behind the acacias in a little oasis of galvanized shade
the soldiers sit smoking and joking,
they talk to you with shy smiles and gentle laughter,
they offer cigarettes before you can offer them,
their tact and manners are exquisite.
It's like being at a king's court where the thrones
are three-legged stools, where the knights before battle
go around in regulation-issue sleeveless undershirts,
where the gold and silver floor is dust packed hard by boots.
Now the wind is blowing through the trees,
the scene is changing as the day moon grows strong,
leaves hanging from the branches
drip and curdle in the afternoon sun.
The soldiers lie down on mats, their faces slacken,
sleep runs like a hand over their skinny bodies,
and a goat climbs into a huge cooking pot
and licks and licks the sides clean.
The journalist who doesn't sleep walks into a bullet.
The young boy with trousers rolled waits at KM4.
Before them both is a door into the earth that swings back
like a cellar door in the last century.
Ahmed Abdi Ali Patrice Andy Bill Rika Zero Idil Yoko
meet in the underworld at The Greasepit Bar
and talk about rotations up to the world of the living:
they come back like Patroclos to accuse dreaming Achilles
of having forgotten and forsaken him,
faithless in death to their companions...
The sun compressed to a sliver shines through
mesh of my mosquito net that holds back
mosquitos hovering like the souls I don't believe in
of those who've died or have gone missing in the wind's
unsubtle devastatations —
but the love of lost companions
brings back wet underwear: socks, T-shirts,
boxer shorts, bras, panties, a dhoti
hung from thorn trees to dry in the dawn breeze.
IO/ TOO LATE
Here the body is the sheered-off wing of the Trans-Avia plane
lying in a scrapheap
like the knocked-off arm of an old Grecian figurine
of Winged Victory pacing down the deck of Athenian might.
Here, you can let yourself go in so many ways —
the bomb pack strapped to your waist and detonated
by pushing Send on your cell phone.
Or the eternal aesthete in his eternal pursuit
of just the right moment to see
the splintering of light passing through tent mesh
waking you to the unambivalent hate you've always craved.
The rivals walk off to where the broken pediments
of the cathedral still brace under the weight of the rose window.
And the body barters for the ghosts pinned down by the shadows
to come rising at this moment from the grave
telling the body it's too late, it's always been too late
passing; over the ocean's drv whispering wave.