Somewhere in the Middle East After One War Ended
by Shirani Rajapakse
Child in the classroom unable
to speak. Staring at the space in front
silent to the teachers urging.
Mouth refusing to shape
words that don't come out, they died,
crumbled to dust and got lost
in the sands swirling not so very long ago.
What thoughts hold her back afraid
to open lips that might howl out secrets
best left hidden amidst the ruins
piled up like garbage?
Numb to the people, deaf
to the voices moving around, she hears
strange noises in her mind
deafening the songs
trying to rise up from a corner where
she stored them for safe keeping,
to make her smile.
Gunshots in the street,
the heavy fire of machine guns in
the dark of the night, a river
nonstop taking with it the trees
uprooted, buildings collapsed.
Flares lighting up the
sky as she hid under
the bed seeing neon signs flash across
the sky through a hole in the roof
that brought in the sun during the day,
hot and burning, like the sting of the bullet
in her mother's chest.
The guns are silenced for the moment,
only the distant low hum of
sporadic fire in some other town
not so far away.
People walk the streets unafraid, go about
their work like
nothing ever happened.
The past erased.
Yet the guns inside
her head continue to fire volley after volley
as she struggles to live each day.
"It isn't a tank it's an ambulance." (shortlisted for the Wilfred Owen Poetry Competition and included in the Wilfred Owen Association 2015 Anthology)
In the Information Centre of Bosnia-Herzegovina in London, we know
We are losing the war as we have no heavy weapons and no tanks.
Haris' family disappeared when his house was burned down by Arkan Militiamen.
We sometimes see him high upstairs through the office window,
A miserable wartime Pole Star: separate, aloft, unreachable.
In the papers, there are reports of rape camps and starvation;
Pictures of Bosnians behind camp barbed wires, half-naked,
Impaled on the war like oysters on a knife.
Tom, calm as a sniper, has a plan to buy a tank for Bosnia in Kaliningrad,
Paint it white, remove its guns and say it is an ambulance.
Haris looks through the doorway as everyone listens.
To him we are a choir of noises like the shredders. We can see him.
But he seems lost where no-one can find him,
Trapped in a solitary unswept darkness, a deep mine air shaft.
He shrugs then says he wants to leave.
His brother has found him a job in a shoe shop in Oxford Street.
But we know is going to sit in a flat and brood alone; and smoke and drink forever.
Khaled, second in charge, the press attaché, tries to talk him out of it but gets nowhere.
Khaled is kindly but too busy to talk. In the press room,
The fax paper unrolls news of death like a bloody Cleopatra.
In Mostar there is street fighting, close combat.
Tom's tank idea has become more realistic:
He plans on buying an armoured personnel carrier.
It can be painted white and have its guns removed, red crosses on the sides.
Once into Bosnia it can be rearmed and repainted.
Haris clears his desk. It does not take long. He says he doesn't want a farewell do at the pub.
Tom flies to Kaliningrad with Saudi money. He buys an armoured personnel carrier.
He arranges delivery. It is painted white and, amazingly-a miracle- the Croats let it through. He sees the front. In the Krajena, he says, Serb houses are burning
With Croatian graffiti on the walls: 'Serves you right you right. You started this.'
The war seems to be ending but the weird racism doesn't.
In Tudjman's Croatia, anti-abortion posters beside the road say 'Every dead baby is a baby Croatian.' But we have a tank. Suddenly Haris returns.
When we go home at night, he ransacks all the rooms, the cleaning cupboards, even desks.
the lingering fear -
Promises of peace fading,
in a sky streaked with dust from soldier's boots.
Bright eyed children playing in torn up streets.
Long skirted women shopping for the daily meal -
Hoping for the best,
knowing the worst...
and not knowing what to do
to stop the slaughter
that scars their days.
Perhaps, it is only in the darkness
of a universal night,
that we will shed our combat gear
and find the courage
to embrace a peaceful light.
The news says today that Putin will own the Crimea
And that it is good that we understand that international law exists
And that we have become the arrogant monsters of earth
And that Russia will be heard
And that Russia alone has enough bombs to level the United States
And he must be right
Because the money that might have gone to universal health care in the United States
Never happened either.
Because somehow it was swallowed too.
And our government of lies dissolves
Before an honest Putin?????
In little, tiny, and reflecting ice-like moments
let me etch my face,
melting while the sun shimmering on this life
Glistens into spring some sort of dew
Awake in all the golden hue of life
And then, beneath that Spring, come color
That which is, and was, ... how in the closest moment of despair
Your cry, its scream and echo still ring out
Its swanky and deserted shine
There in the cavern of this mind, echoing its song, terror, fright, dark passion
let me dwell - Did you know that I collapsed beside some concrete stair to hear it
And hear it still, etched into each fragment moment
As if icicles are etched, diamonds with names and microscopic Bible verses
Never letting go their hold
Until driven crazy by their sheer weight
I go... and down ... and down ... and down
goes all the polar cap with me
Hearing screams still
But more distant...