Running Orders

July 26, 2014

“They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of 
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that 
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter 
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

~ Lena Khalaf Tuffaha ~ 

Gaza July 2014


August 26, 2012


As life improved, their poems
Grew sadder and sadder. Was there oil
For the machine? It was
The vinegar in the poets’ cup.

The tins marched to the music
Of the conveyor belt. A billion
Mouths opened. Production,
Production, the wheels

Whistled. Among the forests
Of metal the one human
Sound was the lament of
The poets for deciduous language.

~ R S Thomas ~

Welsh nationalist and Anglican priest.

The Imprisoned Forest

September 3, 2010

Scratches of my pen
Like prison bars
Hold something down.
Or maybe nothing exists
Beyond what is left.:

A fear grows in me,
As I watch the last line droop
And wither, before the new one begins.

Sometimes I feel like the forest
Forsaken by its animals –
A premonition,
That brings the chainsaws.

~Aniket Alam~

– –
Published by Danse Macabre in their September 2010 editon: La Cour des Miracle

Star Gazing

September 3, 2010

Maybe some ancient astronomer
stood on a hill
and saw the stars above.
Maybe he wondered at our world,
our universe, and beyond.
And told stories of these wonders
to the children of his clan.

Maybe some ancient lover, star gazing
saw the eyes of her beloved
and remorse may have squeezed out a tear
reflecting the stars and the moon.
A kaleidoscope of memories,
diverting her thoughts back to
the stories of grandfather astronomer.

And maybe mothers told these stories
to their wide eyed wondering children.
As ancient tales and trails turned modern
maybe people still cuddled ‘round fires.
Talking about devils, gods and stars
As the flames danced in their eyes
Till the embers twinkled out cold.

And years of tear shedding
Years of storytelling, star gazing
Left the wonder undimmed and intact.
But star poems have lost their lustre
Since A-grade stars are marketed
With lasers, space ships and aliens
For 10 rupees at our local video store.

And we all watch them.

~Aniket Alam~

– –
Published in Danse Macabre’s La Cour des Miracles edition of September 2010.

The Crow on the Wall

September 3, 2010

Like the noise of a forlorn horn
Not working, it caws.
Like a glistening coal covered miner
It considers the world.
Like the twinkle of light in a gem
It expectantly eyes me.
Like an oracle cursing with a fling of his hand
I shoo it away.

~Aniket Alam~

– –
Published in Danse Macabre’s La Cour des Miracles edition of September 2010.

Little Miss Muffet discovered a tuffet,
(Which never occurred to the rest of us)
And, as ’twas a June day, and just about noonday,
She wanted to eat – like the rest of us:
Her diet was whey, and I hasten to say
It is wholesome and people grow fat on it.
The spot being lonely, the lady not only
Discovered the tuffet, but sat on it.

A rivulet gabbled beside her and babbled,
As rivulets always are thought to do,
And dragon flies sported around and cavorted,
As poets say dragon flies ought to do;
When, glancing aside for a moment, she spied
A horrible sight that brought fear to her,
A hideous spider was sitting beside her,
And most unavoidably near to her!

Albeit unsightly, this creature politely Said: “
Madam, I earnestly vow to you,
I’m penitent that I did not bring my hat.
I Should otherwise certainly bow to you.”
Thought anxious to please, he was so ill at ease
That he lost all his sense of propriety,
And grew so inept that he clumsily stept
In her plate – which is barred in Society.

This curious error completed her terror;
She shuddered, and growing much paler, not
Only left tuffet, but dealt him a buffet
Which doubled him up in a sailor knot.
It should be explained that at this he was pained:
He cried: “I have vexed you, no doubt of it!
Your fists’s like a truncheon.” “You’re still in my luncheon,”
Was all that she answered. “Get out of it!”

And the Moral is this: Be it madam or miss
To whom you have something to say,
You are only absurd when you get in the curd
But you’re rude when you get in the whey.

— Guy Wetmore Carryl –

The Prison Cell

January 21, 2009

It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…

It is possible for prison walls
To disappear,
For the cell to become a distant land
Without frontiers:

What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to the dialogue.
He said he didn’t care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me
In the morning.
He shouted at me:

Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn’t like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
His freedom.

~ Mahmoud Darwish [1941-2008] ~

Translated by Ben Bennani


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