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Orange Alert
(a phrase Homeland Security used as part of its terror alert warning system during the Bush era)
by Haleh Liza

We're on orange alert again, I hear
as we cross the East River and the winter sun
beams its blinding white light across the
jagged surface of the water.
Orange alert.
Orange alert?
So am I to be on the lookout for a suitcase that ticks,
for a turbaned man, a veiled woman,
a shoulder belt of rockets?
Shall I suspect all
Mohammeds today? Or
shall I envision my escape
through the office hall,
through the bathroom window,
through the shaken streets as
ash rains down and my morning coffee gets cold?

Orange alert?
How about a russet alert?
A coral alert, a sienna alert,
a burnt ochre, vermillion alert
a salmon, pumpkin, persimmon alert
a rust carrot apricot alert,
a saffron alert!
Give me a saffron alert!

Take me to the rugged mountains of Iran and let's get down on our knees and pluck
     the saffron threads from purple crocuses that paint a belt out to the blue sea.

Let's stand over a burlap sack stuffed with it and inhale its aroma of honey, hay, and steel.
Saffron alert!

Give me one glimpse of the powdery grains the color of flames,
of my Great Grandmother's mortar and pestle they stained a luminous yellow,
of Cleopatra's tinted bathwater,
or the saffron robes of Buddhist monks meditating as the first sliver of sun appears
     on the horizon
Saffron, the color of illumination
Give me a saffron alert!

Or give me an orange alert but make it a citrus alert.
Naval, Valencia, Satsuma, Blood—
glowing spheres of trapped sunlight I hold in my palm,
their yielding skin and the fragrant spray of summer wakes me
through the winter.
Desert lime, Clementines, tangerine, citron,
tangelo, pomelo, bergamot, mandarin—
the juice is dripping down my fingers.
This is a citrus alert.

And if tomorrow is a red alert,
then make it a ruby alert, a pomegranate alert, a full-bodied Bordeaux alert, a blood
Our blood, this magical medium pumping through us,
brimming with iron atoms that were once inside the core stars,
iron atoms that once shot across the cosmos now inside our blood.
Alert us to the magic of our blood—
this is a red alert.

But red alert is maximum terror alert,
they say again and again.
So what am I to do now?
Shall I avoid all close quarters, elevators, buses, and subways?
Shall I walk over two bridges to get to work, or shall I stay at home,
lock the door, and consider the tears of a child 6,000 miles away, just orphaned?

Streaks of red dripping down an Iraqi man's arm.
Streaks of red dripping down an American soldier's arm.
Children sleeping in bodies rigid with trauma—
This is a red alert!

Red alert, orange alert, human alert:
under that veil, a woman,
under that turban, that cap, that beard
under that skin the color of pyramids, the color of sand dunes, the color of lions is a
and under that ink-blue business suit walking up the bone white stairs of the Capital
     is a soul,
and under that US army camouflage the color of my skin is a soul.

Alert me, alert us to this possibility
as we cross the sacred, wretched, swirling river.


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