The War Works Hard

by Dunya Mikhail, Elizabeth Winslow and Saadi Simawe

Paperback, 80 pages, W W Norton & Co Inc, List Price: $13.95 | purchase

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Excerpt: The War Works Hard

THE WAR WORKS HARD


A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK

Copyright © 2005 Dunya Mikhail
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8112-1621-7

Contents

Introduction by Saadi Simawe..................................viiONE. THE WAR WORKS HARD (2004)Bag of Bones..................................................3Shoemaker.....................................................5The War Works Hard............................................6The Game......................................................8The Prisoner..................................................9A Drop of Water...............................................10Inanna........................................................11An Urgent Call................................................13Non-Military Statements.......................................15Between Two Wars..............................................17Tough Rose....................................................19The Jewel.....................................................20A Voice.......................................................21Travel Agency.................................................22O.............................................................23Santa Claus...................................................24Buzz..........................................................25Crashed Acts..................................................26Snowstorm.....................................................27To Any Other Place............................................29I Was In A Hurry..............................................31America.......................................................33Silent Movie..................................................40Laheeb and the City...........................................41The Rocking Chair.............................................42Traces........................................................43The Foreigner.................................................44Five Minutes..................................................46TWO. from ALMOST MUSIC (1997)The Clip......................................................51The Resonance.................................................53The Artist Child..............................................54The Departure of Friends......................................56A Tombstone...................................................57The Theory of Absence.........................................58Nothing Here is Enough........................................59What's New?...................................................60The Pomegranate Seeds.........................................61With One Look From Him........................................62An Orange.....................................................63THREE. from THE PSALMS OF ABSENCE (1993)Behind the Glass..............................................67The Nun.......................................................69The New Year..................................................70Transformations of the Child and the Moon.....................71The Chaldean's Ruins..........................................72The Shadow of a Tear..........................................74Pronouns......................................................75Notes.........................................................77

Chapter One

THE WAR WORKS HARD (2004)

Bag of Bones

What good luck! She has found his bones. The skull is also in the bag the bag in her hand like all other bags in all other trembling hands. His bones, like thousands of bones in the mass graveyard, his skull, not like any other skull. Two eyes or holes with which he saw too much, two ears with which he listened to music that told his own story, a nose that never knew clean air, a mouth, open like a chasm, was not like that when he kissed her there, quietly, not in this place noisy with skulls and bones and dust dug up with questions: What does it mean to die all this death in a place where the darkness plays all this silence? What does it mean to meet your loved ones now with all of these hollow places? To give back to your mother on the occasion of death a handful of bones she had given to you on the occasion of birth? To depart without death or birth certificates because the dictator does not give receipts when he takes your life? The dictator has a heart, too, a balloon that never pops. He has a skull, too, a huge one not like any other skull. It solved by itself a math problem that multiplied the one death by millions to equal homeland. The dictator is the director of a great tragedy. He has an audience, too, an audience that claps until the bones begin to rattle-the bones in the bags, the full bag finally in her hand, unlike her disappointed neighbor who has not yet found her own. Shoemaker A skillful shoemaker throughout his life has pounded the nails and smoothed the leather for a variety of feet: feet that flee feet that kick feet that plunge feet that pursue feet that run feet that trample feet that collapse feet that jump feet that trip feet that are still feet that tremble feet that dance feet that return ... Life is a handful of nails in the hand of a shoemaker. The War Works Hard How magnificent the war is! How eager and efficient! Early in the morning, it wakes up the sirens and dispatches ambulances to various places, swings corpses through the air, rolls stretchers to the wounded, summons rain from the eyes of mothers, digs into the earth dislodging many things from under the ruins ... Some are lifeless and glistening, others are pale and still throbbing ... It produces the most questions in the minds of children, entertains the gods by shooting fireworks and missiles into the sky, sows mines in the fields and reaps punctures and blisters, urges families to emigrate, stands beside the clergymen as they curse the devil (poor devil, he remains with one hand in the searing fire) ... The war continues working, day and night. It inspires tyrants to deliver long speeches, awards medals to generals and themes to poets. It contributes to the industry of artificial limbs, provides food for flies, adds pages to the history books, achieves equality between killer and killed, teaches lovers to write letters, accustoms young women to waiting, fills the newspapers with articles and pictures, builds new houses for the orphans, invigorates the coffin makers, gives grave diggers a pat on the back and paints a smile on the leader's face. The war works with unparalleled diligence! Yet no one gives it a word of praise. The Game He is a poor pawn. He always jumps to the next square. He doesn't turn left or right and doesn't look back. He is moved by a foolish queen who cuts across the board lengthwise and diagonally. She doesn't tire of carrying the medals and cursing the bishops. She is a poor queen moved by a reckless king who counts the squares every day and claims that they are diminishing. He arranges the knights and rooks and dreams of a stubborn opponent. He is a poor king moved by an experienced player who rubs his head and loses his time in an endless game. He is a poor player moved by an empty life without black or white. It is a poor life moved by a bewildered god who once tried to play with clay. He is a poor god. He doesn't know how to escape from his dilemma. The Prisoner She doesn't understand what it means to be "guilty." She waits at the prison entrance until she sees him, to say, "Take care of yourself," as she always used to remind him when he went off to school, when he left for work, when he returned while on vacation. She doesn't understand what they are saying now at the back of the podium in their official uniforms. They report that he should be kept there with lonely strangers. It never occurred to her, as she sang lullabies on his bed in those distant days, someday, he would end up in this cold place without windows or moons. She doesn't understand, the prisoner's mother doesn't understand why she should leave him just because "the visit is over." A Drop of Water for Mazin The snowboy was thinking of the snowgirl when desire burned his heart, the fire spreading until he gradually melted and disappeared ... The snowgirl is frozen in a drop of a water. Perhaps this is a token of the snowboy? She thinks this and melts, shrinking as she thinks and the drop grows. Inanna I am Inanna. And this is my city. And this is our meeting round, red and full. Here, sometime ago, someone was asking for help shortly before his death. Houses were still here with their roofs, people, and noise. Palm trees were about to whisper something to me before they were beheaded like some foreigners in my country. I see my old neighbors on the TV running from bombs, sirens and Abu Al-Tubar. I see my new neighbors on the sidewalks running for their morning exercises. I am here thinking of the relationship between the mouse and the computer. I search you on the Internet. I distinguish you grave by grave, skull by skull, bone by bone. I see you in my dreams. 1 see the antiquities scattered and broken in the museum. My necklaces are among them. I yell at you: Behave, you son's of the dead! Stop fighting over my clothes and gold! How you disturb my sleep and frighten a flock of kisses out of my nation! You planted pomegranates and prisons round, red and full. These are your holes in my robe. And this is our meeting ... An Urgent Call This is an urgent call for the American soldier Lynndie to immediately return to her homeland. She suffers from a dangerous virus in her heart. She is pregnant and is sinking in deep mud. She sinks deeper and deeper as she hears: "Good job!" Hurry up, Lynndie, go back to America now. Don't worry, you will not lose your job. There are prisons everywhere, prisons with big black holes, and great shivering, and consecutive flashes, and tremblings that convey messages with no language in a blind galaxy. Don't worry, nobody will force you to feed the birds when you carry a gun. Nobody will force you to work for the environment when you wear combat boots. Don't worry, we will send an email to God to tell Him that the barbarians were the solution. Don't worry. Take a sick leave and release your baby from your body, but don't forget to hide those terrible pictures, the pictures of you dancing in the mud. Keep them away from his or her eyes. Hide them, please. You don't want your child to cry out: The prisoners are naked ... Non-Military Statements 1 Yes, I did write in my letter that I would wait for you forever. I didn't mean exactly "forever," I just included it for the rhythm. 2 No, he was not among them. There were so many of them! More than I've seen in my life on any television screen. And yet he was not among them. 3 It has no carvings or arms. It always remains there in front of the television this empty chair. 4 I dream of a magic wand that changes my kisses to stars. At night you can gaze at them and know they are innumerable. 5 I thank everyone I don't love. They don't cause me heartache; they don't make me write long letters; they don't disturb my dreams. I don't wait for them anxiously; I don't read their horoscopes in magazines; I don't dial their numbers; I don't think of them. I thank them a lot. They don't turn my life upside down. 6 I drew a door to sit behind, ready to open the door as soon as you arrive. Between Two Wars This is all that remains: a handful of burnt papers, photos, here and there with rippled backs like maps. One of us died, another savors life in his place. One of us returned, changed by magic into a small bird who knows the news in another language. One of us went crazy and kept babbling nonsense for hours under the sun. One of us escaped from the bugs and the officers to who knows where. Sidewalk vendors wrap falafel in the pages of our books. The entire assembly of gods has come to help. On the way to us, they pinch their noses and watch a woman roll tobacco. To her, the hand-rolled cigarette is more wondrous than the Seven Wonders of the World. All her relatives have gone abroad. The boy next door returned one day, a tin star on his chest. He talked too much about that star until, one day, he changed into a piece of metal in the Martyrs' Monument. This is all that remains: a handful of meaningless words engraved on the walls. We read so absent-mindedly, eventually we forget how, in the short lull between two wars, we became so old. Tough Rose I am a new rose. My redness, wild hallucinations, and my thorns, prison cells with views of the moon. Yesterday someone touched me, but did not pick me. I was tough. I didn't give him any of my petals. Tomorrow when people pass by, my leaves will remind them of things that never were, and they will leave my dry head bare contemplating the new roses which were not here yesterday. The Jewel It no longer stretches across the river. It is not in the city, not on the map. The bridge that was ... The bridge that we were ... The Pontoon Bridge we crossed every day ... Dropped by the war into the river just like the blue jewel that lady dropped off the side of the Titanic. A Voice I want to return return return return repeated the parrot in the room where her owner had left her alone to repeat: return return return ... Travel Agency A pile of travelers is on the table. Tomorrow their planes will take off and dot the sky with silver and descend like evening on the cities. Mr. George says that his beloved no longer smiles at him. He wants to travel directly to Rome to dig a grave there like her smile. "But not all roads lead to Rome," I remind him, and hand him a ticket for one. He wants to sit by the window to be sure that the sky is the same everywhere. Santa Claus With his beard long like war and his suit red like history, Santa Claus paused with a smile and asked me to pick something. You're a good girl, he said, therefore you deserve a toy. Then he gave me something like poetry, and because I hesitated, he assured me: Don't be afraid, little one, I am Santa Claus. I distribute beautiful toys to children. Haven't you seen me before? I replied: But the Santa Claus I know wears a military uniform, and each year he distributes red swords, dolls for orphans, artificial limbs, and photos of the missing to be hung on the walls. Buzz As the airplane takes off and puffs out a smoke of images, I think about tossing one of my ears from the window. It has an annoying buzz that abrades me. The buzz smells like gunpowder and trips the pretty words which bubble out accidentally from my other ear to the friendly sky vanishing in clouds. The stewardess doesn't know why I block my ear with my hand and puff out images of smoke. I don't know why the memories grow while I shrink. I don't remember what I wanted to say. I don't want to say what I remember as the plane lands. Crashed Acts After an hour delay, the plane took off with its busy passengers ... The stewardess will not smile. The student will not read his letter. The actress will not play the role of princess. The business man will not attend the meeting. The husband will not see his wife. The teacher will not wear her glasses. The university graduate will not start her new job. The lover will not celebrate his beloved's birthday. The lawyer will not defend the client. The retiree will not be there. The child will not ask any more questions. Snowstorm for Lori Oh, what sweet children! They rush to awaken us. We, the snow-women, just now born from nostalgia or boredom, accumulate outside making the pampered storm wade through our flakes. Sometimes the storm covers us like an earnest god with leaves from the trees of Paradise. And we, the snow-women, kneaded in the children's sweet hands, expand and smile, and when they attach our eyes, we gaze gratefully, staring to make them hurry. We can't wait for them to attach our feet. We want to move, the celebration will start soon. We will signal with our fingers which they are now forming. We will signal to a balloon that rises from our voices. There it is! Look! We can't wait to get moving. They are taking too long to attach our feet so that we-how sad! -depart on a sunny day. To Any Other Place With her unkempt hair and her repugnant smell and her fleeing children, The Red Mother sat face to face with The Brown Mother and a third, The Wordless Conversation: The Red Mother said: How much I hate you! Your beginning is my end. The Brown Mother said: Your sons, the battles, shatter the glass of our windows and terrify my sleeping daughters. The Red Mother: I want firewood ... firewood ... I want to feed my sons, I want them to grow up and devour your daughters, the peace. The Brown Mother: I raise my daughters for roses and you raise your sons for ashes. The fire breaks out and the dancing will start around it. The fire is not satisfied and the dance does not end. The Red Mother: Let us celebrate every year the steps which have diminished and the pairs of shoes that remained there in the mud. The Brown Mother: This rhythm does not please me, and these drums make the din of emptiness. I want to move my daughters to another place, to any other place ... (Continues...)