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Leaves That the Wind Drives Earthward

ISSUE:  Fall 2008

There is a man in a barber’s chair in Mosul,
a professor of civil engineering at the local university,
and he commends Nancy Ajram, who sings “Akhasmak Ah,”
and he says—She also knows how to play the oud,
though the barber doesn’t hear any of it, the professor, the television,
he runs his fingers through silk black hair,
snips, snips, snips,
his mind back in the year 1982, the parachute’s
canopy snapping open above him,
the crisp sound of it harnessing the wind, and the earth,
how he never wanted to look down at it again;

and there are five children in an inflatable pool, too many
for such a small body of water, but there’s always room
for one more, as they say, and their mother,
just returned from the Shorja market, counts them,
not consciously, but with her eyes touching the slicked-backed hair
of each, ever so briefly, before touching the next;

and in the secondhand shops of Basra, the tailor
folds the cuff tight, the needle’s eye
held in his lips, marking chalk tucked behind his ear
as the young man about to be married
stares at the people in the street, how they hurry
he thinks, but to where

and the welder in Balad, the man with slag burns on his forearms,
burnt holes in his jeans, he guides the liquid bead
of metal and heat, the one thing he’s sure of in this world,
while the kids kick a fútbol there in the street,
the ice-seller yelling Theledge, Theledge as he drives by;

and in Zaganiyah, the old men play the game of stones,
sharing the smoke of the water pipe, news
they’ve heard or read, extolling the degradations of history
within the anecdotal, and one of them says—
You have to study the Iraqis to know them . . . and another says—
It’s impossible to change us
with the barrel of a tank . . .

and in Kirkuk, a woman stands by as her neighbors
carry their dead through the street, wondering to herself—
how many caskets have these shoulders lifted—
while over all of them, the telephone lines
hum with voices strung pole to pole, street by street,
the human traffic shielded by copper;

and the donkey carts are loaded down with cooking oil
in Dahuk; and the small boys strain with torque wrenches
in the generator shops of Samarra; and in the south
there is the dance of chains, the humility of blood
given by the drum, the loudspeakers in their singing;

and at night, long after the Friday prayers
and long after the children are put to sleep,
there are couples drawing their fingers slowly
through each other’s hair, whispering
words only they will ever know—
and it makes me wonder, in all of it,
in all these places, and moments, and lives,
I’m wondering, what purpose
does the bomb serve? What possible good
the bullet, or the blade?


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