Tuesday, October 30, 2012

the enemy has no uniform (Poem)

the enemy has no uniform

and an orange taxi is not armored
for rules of engagement

in the intersection with the Red Crescent
ambulance or the white Mercedes

or the pickup carrying the brother
who will never make it

because no one gave an order
to fire and everyone was firing

at the same thing everyone else was
left to figure out on his own

if your home is just around the corner
you don't turn back but dash right through

onto Baladiyat Street, tripping
the wires misfiring in the head ever after riddled

with questions you will hear for the rest of your life

like in a junk yard the cars pile up
because in Iraq the cars keep coming

like the bullets
keep coming from all directions into the intersection

if they could have they didn't just shoot
out the engines

their claim is the need to say so much before
the lines get run, the way mascara soon runs

from the eyes
from the backseat of the blue Mercedes

its windshield shattered not unlike the shoulder
dislocated and the skin pulled away

the white undershirt pulled off
the baby and waved

doesn't stop the firing, nor a kid rolling
out the door of another car

before another car and another
car not part of the attack

and not a single one a suicide bomber
but every one driving toward the intersection

like it doesn't matter
they're a bunch of innocent Iraqis

and any civilian who says that
in war there are no rules of engagement

bears a scar on his soul

five thousand rounds and a couple more
it takes to stop the path

of fear traveling toward you
because you can't say stop! loud enough

take time long enough to know
why you do what you do was not

entirely defensible
when cars are coming

toward you and the enemy has no uniform
you can see and there's something

about killing, about a mother with a mangled arm
holding up a baby red with blood

like your own that you will ever after remember

because you were told
anyone could be hostile, because you didn't train

for civilians coming out of houses
or driving through the wire right at you

toward the casualty-collection point

later, marriages will be lost and religions
given up unlike the dogging memories of the killing

it will take rituals of fire
and water to cleanse

tea and cakes on a tray
a long smoke in a front yard in California

to think about that stuff, humanize the things you don't
humanize over there

after you realize what you did before
forgiveness is mentioned

© 2012 Maureen E. Doallas
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I wrote this "found" poem after reading Dexter Filkins's article "Atonement" in The New Yorker (October 29 and November 5, 2012). Filkins's nonfiction piece (available to subscribers online) is about an Iraq War veteran, Lu Lobello, and a family harmed when their paths crossed on April 8, 2003, in the neighborhood of Baladiyat in eastern Baghdad. It is a story about extraordinary loss, about fear and confusion in an impossible situation "on the ground", about not being able to forget, and about need to both seek and receive forgiveness. It moved me deeply.

15 comments:

Louise Gallagher said...

Wow -- what a powerful poem, and story. Thank you for sharing your heart so beautifully Maureen.

I believe it is forgiveness that will bridge those dark and painful places between our hearts.

Thank you for this.

Hope you're withstanding the storm without undue disruption.

and it is interesting we both write of the same subject today!

Hugs

Laurie Kolp said...

Powerful, gut-wrenching... this will stick with me awhile!

ayala said...

Powerful poem and story. So many tales yet untold.

Beachanny said...

Stunning. So much happening even with words - impossible to immediately assimilate that information. Imagine the problem when it's all verging images, running into a field of vision, and there's not only no uniform, but no leader but one's own brain to direct the action. Powerful, Maureen!

seacamels said...

Powerful, as forgiveness always demands. There is a quest there—seeking forgiveness and overcoming pain. Those are moments in life that need to be captured and told. You told it well, with that feeling and genuine sentiment. No done well. Not done often enough.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Maureen ... these are very powerful stories and your poem is an ache in the heart. As happens so often, our spirits are in sync.

Claudia said...

i recently talked to a guy who lives with his family in baghdad..about the fears and the terror..your poem describes the horror in a way that i felt like i was in the middle of the scene..

Dave King said...

I wish I could "find" poems like this - well, maybe not QUITE like this, i'd rather we didn't live in that sort of world, but since we do.. powerful and compelling. I am much impressed.

Orange UaPoet said...

This poem is being bookmarked…a very powerful piece….thank you for sharing it.

Orange UaPoet said...

This poem is being bookmarked…a very powerful piece….thank you for sharing it.

lookingforroots said...

This is just amazing writing. Amazing. Makes my heart hurt. Beautifully captured.

beckykilsby said...

Maureen.. you have harnessed the detail and emotional power from your source into a truly unforgettable piece of writing. The form so well carries along that string of events, past, present and future... a real chain of vivid impressions and laden incident.

beckykilsby said...

Maureen.. you have harnessed the detail and emotional power from your source into a truly unforgettable piece of writing. The form so well carries along that string of events, past, present and future... a real chain of vivid impressions and laden incident.

Peggy Rosenthal said...

In 2005, I collected poems for a Pax Christi anthology called Imagine a World: Poetry for Peacemakers. One section had poems on "the feel of war." Oh, if I were compiling this book today, your poem would be right at the start of this section. Nothing can give the horrible "feel of war" as profoundly as you do here.

Maureen said...

Thank you all so very much for all your generous comments. I hope you'll find a copy of The New Yorker article and read it and be moved by it, as I was.