When my grandma told me she was relieved it was me in
"the war," as it was sometimes called,
and not another grandchild, I think she meant
I could ride the nightmare of it on white horses
or something like that, that
I’d manage, I’d be o-kay
not that she loved me any less; she prayed on her knees until they bruised,
my mother told me, although she wasn’t accustomed to praying
on her knees, and grandpa—he was still alive then—
told a few of his angels to go to me.
More invasion than war, though the word war sounds scarier
I’m not sure it always is. All I knew of war close-up was Meg’s friend
Pietro was a child in the Bosnian war, and as children
we played the card game WAR:
the highest card wins, in the end
one of us had nothing in our hands and the other a whole deck, worthless
without a playmate. Soldiers lined the borders, pointed their rifles
inward and fighter jets circled and warships lined the shore. I feared,
most of all, the tanks, though it was helicopters that I saw
drop the most bombs. Wobbly and slow, they moved like
opossums along the roadside, their terrible bald tails
limp, useless on the ground; the helicopters flew low, so low
we could see the pilots’ faces, could have held cardboard signs:
HELLO MY NAME IS EMILY NICE TO MEET YOU
THIS IS MY FRIEND FARIDA & HER DAUGHTER SARAH
THEY’RE IRAQI REFUGEES
I AM A US CITIZEN & MY TAX $ ARE HELPING
FUND OUR DEATHS
WOOT!!! WOOT!!! DO YOU LIKE BEYONCE TOO?
The helicopters flew low
knowing they could fly low
One day we went to make sure Ahmed’s father’s clinic had enough supplies.
The nurses taped the windows with big X’s
to prevent the glass from shattering during coming explosions.
On the way home
we flew a white flag from the window of Ahmed’s convertible.
I just want this to be over
I knew I could make it through another day, if I were alive,
but how can the human mind withstand this
how can the heart—
Gone all day, we thought the mother bird had left her babies.
It was easier to imagine her death than human deaths.
Her babies made a terrible racket, reminding us:
we are alive and hungry.
I held Farida’s hips as she balanced on the bathroom sink
and reached out the window into the open air to drop food into their beaks,
air the smell of ash fires silence as “night descended like a tired bird,”
come home, home home they screamed.
My grandma tells me, “I only like comedies now.” I see what she means,
the way Ahmed and I watched Fashion TV and sang
into fake hand-microphones as we drove past buildings turned to rubble.
Where are all the people? I wanted to ask
in the silence between songs, but the silence was always too brief
and, really, what could we say?
Is it wrong to say: we were busy trying to stay alive.
Maybe it is how we had become more like animals
using our instincts for survival. Out, in a way,
for ourselves. I felt such shame.
That I could be so worthless in someone’s eyes that he could want to kill me,
that we all could be—
I wanted to hold up a sign, a heart, not for
the IDF as they tried to kill us—though they must have felt so worthless too,
that all they could do was kill, kill, kill—
a heart that was mine, out in the open, unafraid,
full of love, saying only, this is who I am.
Though, at the time, I felt such hate, such terrible
retaliatory hate. I wanted a Molotov cocktail
to explode the two helicopters hovering on either side of us,
or what I wanted was a way to make it all stop.
I just want this to be over.
I heard stories, friends whose family members were in the IDF,
all the sex and dancing and drinking
like college years, but you kill people. I thought about
those boys in the helicopters. Once, years later, in a bar,
a man said to me, “I’ve always wanted to have sex with a woman
who was in a war. You must have such a passion for life.”
I wanted to punch him in his gut. “My cousin,” he said,
is in the IDF and flew helicopters during the war.”
Two degrees of separation. Maybe it was him.
Each of us has to find a balance between love
and hate, where we want to stand on the see-saw—
I can feel love and still feel angry
I can say,
OLLI OLLI INCOME FREE
I KNOW YOU ARE OUT THERE.
There is so much I don’t know,
like what to do about love
in a time like this,
like if I still feel that shame inside me or not. At night,
when bad dreams come, I try to picture that white horse
galloping toward me. There are some things that are so
difficult we can know they are there
but not let them touch us, like the way a fire
burns the skin and we don’t have to put our hand in it
but if we need to, we can lick our finger
and swipe it through and feel nothing.
"You protect yourself when you talk to the dead," Gail once said,
matter-of-fact. I didn’t know what she meant
until she described wrapping myself in light,
an egg of light, all the way around, the way babies are,
so each time is like being born into a new awareness,
which is maybe why my grandma was relieved
it was me, that—if we are balanced—we see
finite, and not the other way around.