Change Square, Sana, Yemen, October 15, 2011
The decision to try to outrun the tear gas
came before the fall.
Who now remembers marching a second
day to Change Square, blue-jeaned columns block
by block advancing, retreating, re-lock-stepping
toward a firestorm in Zubairy Street, snipers
taking out the one before the other after.
In a mosque turned makeshift hospital,
who recalls removing shoes, slipping
in blood on Allah's mosaic floor.
In the accounting and the letting go,
it is Fatima who is the calm you cannot see
through veils, Fatima who answers
news of death's spread cloak with a mother's touching
presence, her hamsa gloved against what stains.
To be found alive in Sana is the moment
the photographer shoots Zayed, 18, a boy,
accepting his mother's cradling arms.
Their pose needs no cut-line. To understand it
is to acknowledge it
is beyond understanding
what is now past the now-past spring. There will be
nard enough for more injuries,
two more wounds for Zayed while Mary waits,
while we all look in, declaring ourselves
martyrs to no cause
but what this mother and her son call love.
© 2012 Maureen E. Doallas
This poem is inspired by Samuel Aranda's 2011 World Press Photo of the Year, depicting Fatima al-Qaws cradling her son Zayed after finding him in a makeshift hospital following a massive street demonstration in Sana, Yemen, against the repressive regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. At least 12 people died the day that Zayed, overcome by tear gas, fell, sustaining a head injury that left him in a coma for several days. In her mid-thirties, Zayed's mother herself is an activist. Zayed, committed to martyrdom, has been wounded two times since the photograph was taken. See the Lens blog article "In Yemen, an Emotional Reunion", about the photograph and Aranda's visit with the al-Qaws family, and this brief in The Guardian, "Samuel Aranda's Best Photograph: A Woman Protects Her Son".
Hamsa refers to the palm-shaped amulet or open right-hand recognized as protection against the evil eye. It is also known as the hand of Fatima, Fatima being the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad; Levantine Christians call it the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus. It was only after I wrote the poem yesterday that I realized how the symbol and the real-life mother were linked. Nard, believed to have first been used in the 12th Century, is an aromatic ointment deemed to have restorative powers.