There are dead who light up the night
– Mahmoud Darwish
My life has been the tin ribbons of a jaw harp,
I’ve tried to make sense of it:
The bones of my face are a map, I told you
where the Queen’s infantry anointed me in mortar dust
I told you the truth:
You never stared at the palimpsest of scrawled transgressions
Once you took my hand
Trepanned from birth,
As a child, you told me how you used to wake sometimes
the dark haired Virgin standing over you,
Their feathers were cursive, crested
she pressed her palm to your chest, once
I wonder where the mark of her hand is now
The world turns its black spokes,
Daylilies wilt and bow their heads,
The insult of bayonets will erase you
a limp body left to bear witness
I am a corpse, like the others
I am a man who has blinded himself
and my hands, too are cast into the insensate dark.
In my mind
I called you City of Ur.
Your eyebrows the dark arches of Fayoum portraits,
The stelae of their backbones rise like buzzard-ridden arbors,
I want the ululations of a thousand throats
a ghost of night overpasses
I want to open my eyes to see her staring down on me
frail and impossible, a hothouse flower
I have bled, and seen a river fork through this place.
I have watched lithograph smoke
fetal buds pushing through cracked asphalt,
Somewhere, a revolution is happening
Somewhere, the sun rises on a world
Kelly Pflug-Back is a 22-year-old writer and activist living in Toronto. Her poetry, short stories, journalism and essays have appeared in places like This Magazine, The Dominion, Mythic Delirium, Ideomancer, Not One of Us and The Molotov Rag, and she has won awards from the League of Canadian Poets and the Great Canadian Literary Hunt as well as having been nominated for a Rhysling. She goes to Wilfrid Laurier University, pursuing a double major in Contemporary Studies and Human Rights. She says:
I wrote this poem for my partner after we were both arrested during a protest where martial law was enforced and over a thousand people were swept off the streets, brutalized and detained in a makeshift facility with little access to food or water for days. I felt that this experience gave me a deep sense of intimacy and identification with people in my family tree as well as my partner’s family tree who have lived through (or been killed by) war, famine, genocide, and political violence in various parts of the world. The first-person narrative used throughout the poem is influenced by Carl Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious, specifically the concept of “ancestral memory”. While the narrator’s identity does not change, in a sense they are speaking through the voices and experiences of many people in various times and places throughout history. Also, the Mahmoud Darwish poem was translated from Arabic by Sargon Boulos, and it was originally published in Darwish’s anthology Eleven Planets (1992).
Illustration is Albert Goodwin’s “Apocalypse”, 1903.