Friday, September 4, 2009

The Unmistakable Imprint Of Love

The Unmistakable Imprint of Love

Saddam General Hospital, Amara –
July 25, 1999

In this sad place, powerlessness
is a voracious presence,
unappeased and pathologic.
It eats flesh,
a bacteria consuming people
from within,
emptying everyone who comes here,
leaving patients, their parents,
the doctors like hollowed reeds.
When the air moved,
we expected a mournful tune.

For three hours this morning,
stopping as planned at each cot,
we walked slowly through
the pediatrics wards,
observing children caught
in the swollen river of sanctions:
tiny bodies tossed by the tide,
hands groping for a root, a branch,
but torn downriver
by the implacable current.
Taking measurements and securing
water samples for analysis,
we calculated the depth of the river,
its width,
the number of feet above flood stage.

At one bedside, I held Hassan,
a featherweight, eight-month old child.
Dying there slowly,
he slept in my arms.
His mother smiled; she spoke to me
directly, in Arabic.
Turning for help,
I felt on every side
the fixed, expectant eyes
of other mothers holding me,
waiting for my response,
even as I waited for her words
to come out of hiding.
Doctor Khammas came across
the room to translate.
She said, ‘If you can heal my child,
please take him with you.’
I struggled to breathe,
and the plain meaning
of those words came from too far away,
came so slowly toward me,
as though swimming through
a great depth of water.
I handed Hassan back to his mother,
who smiled graciously,
without the least cruelty,
and the mothers’ eyes released me,
but the electrical surge
of their desire
marked me forever:
the unmistakable imprint of love.

David Smith-Ferri


No comments: