Requiem for a War
Teach me when to draw my sword,
Teach me when to put my sword away.
Christ have mercy on me: teach me to beat
my own sword into a rototiller and trowel.
Dies Irae: March 17, 2003
St. Patrick’s Day parades wind through American streets.
The war deadline passes. No jet engines shriek above Baghdad..
The administration threatens like a man jingling his belt
buckle for hours while his son trembles in the bedroom.
Tuba Mirum: March 18, 2003
In the Boratha cemetery, a man in patched white trousers recites
ritual chants over four new graves, voice rising and falling rhythmically
like a wind instrument. He is paid a few dinars for each body.
Between prayers, he looks up, listens for bombers.
It is written in the book secured by armed guards outside a Senate office:
Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction.
“Read the Koran, Mr. Bush,” an Iraqi American said, “and may God
not curse you for what you have done to our people.”
Quid Sum Miser
March 19, 2003: Bombs loaded with chemical gels ignite beams.
Children shriek for mothers pinned beneath fallen roofs as flesh,
hair, bone return to the carbon cycle, a sacrifice for Tigris-watered soil
rendered barren by depleted uranium unto the fourth generation.
Rex Tremendae Majestatus April, 2003
Saddam Hussein flees. In Queens, mosques are jammed with his exiled victims—
men bearing the preternatural calm and deep eyes of the tortured, families
weeping over sons lying mummified in desert graves. “God has answered our prayers.”
The man standing in Boratha Cemetery chants over 70 fresh graves.
Recordare, Late 2003
Kalashnikov-bearing extremists drag Iraqi Christian
women into the streets, beat and rape them. A few are sold.
On Christmas Day, worshippers leave a Catholic church secured behind
blast walls, barbed wire. A car bomb explodes, killing twenty-six.
Ingemisco, August 2003
“I wish I knew another language fluently, like German,”
my brother told me as we sat in the Mikado eating sushi.
That way, if I go abroad, I could speak German
and no one would know I was American.”
Confutatis May 2004
A teenager arrives at a Fallujah military hospital, legs gone,
testicles shredded, penis hanging by a flap of tissue.
Genitals thud into the medical waste container.
It is the first of twenty such surgeries that month.
Women disfigured by war live childless and celibate.
In Fallujah General Hospital, Rashil gives birth to her first child,
a son. His face is misshapen. His brain juts outside his skull.
Depleted uranium, she says, weeping.
May their dead and our dead
nourish their native soil.
May our maimed and their maimed
find a place where no eyes slide away.
Lord, in praise of these men and women
who sacrificed themselves for us, I offer
nineteen dollars a month and the proceeds
from my garage sale to a veteran’s charity
“Mom. Mom. Mom! I want some drinky stuff.”
Cum laude graduate in biology, he lies in bed, optic nerve
severed, neocortex punctured by shrapnel. His mother comes
bearing a lidded cup and aluminum tubes of useless balms.
“America owns the land.
America owns the sea and sky.
America owns all of outer space.
America save God.”
Archeologists sifting with brushes and sieves unearth a civilization
with bronze scythes but no swords. A vanished people.
Genghis Khan survives in the millions spun from his alpha helices.
Our DNA cries out to You: teach us, O Lord, to beat our plowshares into F-16s.
Give us light according to our portion and no more.
Grant darkness to Gitmo inmates bathed in perpetual brightness,
sun to those detained in darkness, noises muffled.
Let everyone see the moon as if for the last time.
A story from another war: a Filipina surviving
war and occupation of her homeland stocks her American basement
shelves with sixty-pound bags of rice, gallons of fish sauce,
screams at her misbehaving child, “I wish I’d died
during the war rather than have a daughter like you.” Her daughter
does not know where wars end, only how long they last.
“What was the purpose of this whole thing?
Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed.
And what about the people coming back
with no arms and legs? Not to mention the other side.
All those Iraqi kids who’ve been blown to pieces.
And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war
were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing.”
Jessica Ramer is a PhD student at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers.
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