Friday, September 4, 2009

Standing There

David Smith-Ferri

Standing There

After the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
June, 2006

Carried on radio waves,
news of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death
reached me with unexpected force
and in an unlikely place:
a Buddhist monastery.
It is a place where violence,
in any form, is forbidden entrance,
and where vast internal spaces
are mirrored by the boundless
natural landscape.
Nuns and monks, in simple robes,
walk and work.
Radiant peacocks and peahens strut.
Students, aged six to eighteen,
study in a school
that emphasizes character
and asks How can you be of service
to the world?
Above it all, like guardians,
massive oaks and sycamores
spread their arms.

The news arrived as I fastened
my safety belt and suddenly
I felt anything but safer.
Two five hundred pound bombs,
a radio voice said,
enough explosive bite
in their jaws to swallow a house
and leave a house-sized crater
in a date palm orchard.
Like a meteor, I thought.
Sudden, suicidal, alien.

Al-Zarqawi, the disembodied voice
of terrorist threats,
his actual body, broken and bloody,
now a war trophy.

Who doesn’t want to see an end
to terror in Iraq,
an end to exploding cars
and baby carriages,
to looking for missing relatives
in morgues?

I stepped out of my car.
Standing there,
I more than half expected
those great trees to swoon,
the ground to turn momentarily fluid.

Days before, Rachael had told a story.
It seemed simple then.
A bug flew into my eye
while I played soccer.
For a full minute,
I stumbled across the field,
half-blind, frantically blinking,
trying to free the bug,
holding my big,
clumsy fingers at my side.
It was hilarious.
Teammates told me ‘Just kill it,’
but I laughed and blinked
and the bug broke free.

Standing there alongside the sycamores,
I could not reconcile the two images:
on the one hand, the Fighter Falcon
and its ferocious bombs
finding their target
and on the other
the foolish fourteen-year old,
fumbling, finding another way.

Standing there outside
the Buddhist elementary
and secondary schools,
I couldn’t help wonder
which image would flower,
which image would seed our future:
the grown men in the F-16
following orders to kill
or the girl-woman,
following a voice only she can hear.

David Smith-Ferri


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