March 28, 2012
Rachel Perry Bergen
On the tenth anniversary
The desert rises around them, still and baking
and grimly aware of its mission—
an oven, a graveyard, hallowed ground—
meanwhile, floating through the mirages, a warsong needles
its way into the soldiers' open ears,
whispers promises, says,
too far. You can't
Today, Nazik is seventy-three. She says she does not
fear the indescribable, but
hopes that her poetry,
like water through its cycles,
will come back renewed
on others' lips when she is gone.
A wartongue, she says, prays in the language of death,
bleeds out hymns of sacrifice, of faith
and faithful indifference;
for a badge of courage, it will hurl a thousand bodies
into the heat of the desert,
watch them crumble into burning sand, and it will turn away.
In the dark of the market, Nazik closes her eyes, puts a hand
to her tired cheek, and waits for her poem
to find her, seeking her out with doglike obedience.
When it comes, quiet and sure, she holds it in her fingers,
leads it through landmines, through desert air,
through the bins of rice and bright fruit.
By the produce, the boy walks carefully,
his steps sure and his lungs frozen
with breath withheld.
In his knapsack, the bomb is heavy
with expectancy. It whispers,
Just push the button already.
He hears his father's voice in his mind.
The boy grins to show he is not afraid—his teeth are missiles—
when the sky bursts and everything is white-hot
the smile drips down his chin and his eyes
They might belong to some other child, somewhere else that isn't here.
The wartongue gives alms to the ashes that kiss the soil,
rubs them solemnly on its forehead in an "x."
It denounces the sacred.
When the explosion comes, it splits air molecules,
turns apples and lentils to mist.
Nazik, who saw the boy's hand move, lifts her palm to her lips
as the air breaks
and whispers the poem its freedom. Fifty-seven
words bloom and burst, clumsily,
into resurrection. They hang in the air
Rachel Perry Bergen lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, Rob. She was the 2010 recipient of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize for Poetry. She has an M.A. in English from the University of Maine.