It Arrives

a poem for voices

The first person

Her head like a turtle. Cannot be entered
But it houses everything I need to know

A helmet of curses is riveted to her skull

A small gray feather, tufted at the bottom, blunted at the tip
I pick it up and drop it in the poem

Enter the genocidal poet, bowing a gusle with a raptor for a head
Is there nothing that can’t be sung?

A narrator tells it

Rain washes the bones up that the soldiers have dug up and scattered in pockets of earth

The Poet of War Crimes, who heals all ailments of men and of beasts, enters the Madman Café

He sips red wine and bows the fiddle

A reporter calls out, Is there anyone here who was raped who speaks English?

The gusle’s head is an eagle. Its vibrating string, a mosquito

Rain brings memories of what a girl used to savor

the green dot down in the lilac’s center
how rain sent her running into the thunder
and wind riled the river
how she too could sing like a songbird

In his epic, the Poet of War Crimes foretold

that men and boys would also be emptied of song
and soldiers cross over the threshold
to taste the metallic thrill
and the girls in the rape camps

Rain touches the face of the woman who was the girl who chased thunder

No one can enter

Not the reporter

After a lifetime of forgetting, the memory is unearthed

Letters from the front [1]

In the hundredth wartime concert by the string quartet, the cellist discovered a better fingering

The noose around the city could not contain the song a young man wrote to sing its grief

They became impatient with their own misery

Give me chocolate!

Snipers targeted the bridge. The messenger bicycled across it

A husband tiptoed over glass to buy his wife “a beautiful little vase”

Who stayed? Remnants of families. Kasim and Amra, Zlatko, Silly Kika

What did they wear? The single garment of destiny

Hunger recounts it

Burned the last stick of stove wood. Swept up wood chips to sustain the fire

Burned magazines. Watched figures crackle and release green, gaudy flame

Axed the old wardrobe. Axed the dresser, the small square table and the chair

In a killing jar, who needs a headboard and turned bedposts

Began to burn the books, first the history, last the poetry, page by crumpled page

No no, give that to me, a neighbor insisted, trading Akhmatova for kindling from the graves

Gathered scraps for a feast to celebrate liberation from the material

For a few hours became furnaces

Buried hands in pockets. Burned the last thought

Chorus of women in black

He lived on our street

He ate in the restaurant where we spent long evenings speculating about him

He was one of us, among us, in the shadow life of our country

In the corner pub, under his own portrait, he intoned the epic that makes music of his deeds

The wolf is entitled to the sheep
Without suffering no song is sung

We re-trace his trail, follow strands of women’s hair through a forest strung with whispering women’s voices

The poet myth

A white-armed maiden
wound me a helmet
from snow white silk
a gray falcon’s feather
and a gold cross
with a golden tassel
Then I bound my men
in an oath by myth
and by blood
to root out the infidel
who branded
our grandmothers’ hearts with grief
And the falcon flew off
with a swallow
in its mouth
for the hillside village where
a thousand roses
bloomed in the gardens
and darkened the river
The women were led
through the forest
to a house where they learned
the press of manhood
I stood on the hill
overlooking their city
where bullets
rang in the streets
like whistling kisses
A snow white swan
descended from heaven
carrying bread
and twin golden pitchers
of water and dark red wine
In the form
of a woman
she lay them before me
She washed my hands
brought the bread to my lips
brought the wine to my lips
She anointed
a poet of blood

The women in black as Furies

It was we who heard the muffled suffering of the women

Who ferried them medicine and chocolate

Who carried to the capital the stories no one wanted to believe

With our bodies we spelled them out in seven languages

He stands defiant in the witness box

Swelling and emptying

No syllable gets by us, no exchange of glances with the women who come to support him, who resemble us

We fasten ourselves upon him

The narrator tells it

A small thing lost in the woods

A small thing

Alarums raced through treetops

A homely thing that dropped from her pocket the day her mother failed to call her home

Fists punched through the forest floor

Feathers floated down on her

And always the hammering. Yammered obscenities

A slippery thing, she buried it

Is there nothing that can be unsung?

Tattered, it arrives

She speaks

Her first poem:

Not yet

The love I crave

Not yet

Her second poem:

I have no weapon

Still I am able to get into


Her third poem:

I know that fear exists

And is somehow


Her fourth poem:

I will

Come up among

The living


  1. Borrowings from Zlatko Dizdarević (Portraits of Sarajevo, Fromm Intl, 1995) and Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization, Common Courage Press, 2000).

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