by Naima

I was in India when I first learned of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that decimated my grandfather’s homeland. On the overnight train from Kerala to Goa, we were given a newspaper with morning tea. I hadn’t seen any headlines since I left the U.S. “Dazed Haitians Dig for Survivors,” was the bold header for the tiny article tucked in a tiny corner of the front page. As soon as its words came into my eyes, even before I understood what they meant, I was overtaken by a profound grief: deep, raw, and sudden. This poem, born from my sobbing, came out in one scribble, one breath. I dedicate it to the soul-survivors living and gone: a prayer for the graceful transition into ancestry for the fallen, for the safety and solace of the bereaved, and the inheritance of a saner, fairer, more just existence the for the future generations of all Haitians.

i have not seen the pictures yet
of blood caked with ash
and anguished faces

photographs burned
into memory
stench carved
into day-mares

i have not glanced
the 2-D broadcasts of desperation
thrust onto the screens
of our consciousness

but i can already see
the familiar forms
of vacant bodies
dim wet eyes
vision-stripped
futures vanished
stories re-scripted

i can already picture
the burnt girl child
scalding limbs flailing
in Vietnam’s napalm blow

the woman’s lifeless palms
turned sky-ward
on Tamil Nadu’s shoreline
swept empty
by the tsunami’s cesspool swallow

the wide-open scream
and unclosed hand
of the students fleeing
Soweto’s school massacre
cradling their comrade’s departed body

the corrals of runaway children
forced into soldiery
sleeping asylum in rows of hundreds
like factory-farmed fast-food flesh
or sardines, or slaves

the torsos of middle passage ships
the tattered surrender-flags
fanning 9th ward rooftops

the mass-graves of Auschwitz
the bombing of Gaza
9-11, and the 9-11 before that

and the countless
top-secret murders
of C.I.A. cointel
and S.O.A.-trained terrorists

i can picture
the sound of screams
that fall in a city
when no one is around to hear it

the unfamiliar echoes that escape
the freshly-felled buildings
the last breaths wishing
upon the extinguished flames
of strewn street lamps

the homeless houses
the pathless roads

i can see the smells
putrefy the clouded air
the sweat of near-death
mingling with newly-crossed corpses
decaying in the chilling-heat
of an earth bombed with bricks

i can picture it

even though the Deccan Herald
had no space for a photo op
just a tiny front-page bottom-corner
one-column synopsis

and the AFP correspondent
forgot to sign his name
and de-membered the memory
that all things are connected
to everything

his subtitle reads:
“Nature’s Wrath”
and i laugh through my tears
at the thought of
Mama’s Revenge

against a nation
that gave birth to itself
in shackles
and raised itself up
in shanties

refusing to surrender
to IMF debt measures
paybacks to French slave masters
rafts turned back to turbulent seas
and hurricanes near-lethal as Katrina
with less press than Britney

as if Mom
hasn’t been force-fed crack
since 12 generations back
given asthma
from second-hand smog
and napalm-induced heart-attacks

no wonder she’s having
magnitude 7.0 epileptic seizures
in the most underdeveloped regions
of her body

mind tricked
into believing
like the rest of us
that the destiny of the poor
is more poverty
and bad things happen
to Black people

at least we learn
how to turn the lights out
when night falls
and how to sleep again
amidst the insomnia of insanity

may our rest in peacelessness
inspire
awakening

today
humanity lost one to five
hundred thousand souls
between sunsets
grew twice as many wings
between dawns

our guardian angels are plotting
life after death
from the lunch counters of heaven

and hell will not survive
our minds’ insistence
on some ending
different than this

and our fists clenched high
and our wrists rebuilding
and our palms wide open

to the phoenix
taking sprout
beneath the ash

 

by Naima