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Flames and Shadows
by Henry Howard
The flames of our 15,000-pound bombs
Illuminate and burn Afghanistan,
Purging the terrorists who hide in shadows,
Obliterating as well the shadows of women and children,
Crouching in the rubble of villages
Flattened by bombs,
Emblazoned with the patriotic slogans
Of a nation flaming with righteous vengeance.
And what of the flames of September 11?
What of the 3,000 vibrant lives reduced to shadows?
Are they not entitled to memory and justice?
But when have bombs ever honored memory and brought justice?
Shall justice be delivered by the same regime
Whose bombs rained down on every Slav and Albanian alike?
Whose helicopter gunships are used to mangle the children of Palestine
And the peasants of Columbia,
Whose automatic rifles spew their staccato rhythms of hate
In the hands of death squads trained on our own freedom-loving soil?
Who shall be next to face the flames
Of our War on Terror?
Will it be Iraq, whose orphans of the Mother of All Battles
Have paid the price of a million empty stomachs
And a million tiny coffins
Through twelve years of the Mother of All Sanctions?
Perhaps the War on the World will roll like a tidal wave
Throughout the Middle East, and South Asia, and the Philippines,
And back again, victorious, to our own shores,
Cresting in triumphant new twin towers,
Rising ever higher as the lions of commerce
Plot new hotels and casinos and convention centers,
While in distant lands the liquid tears of the desert
Turn from black to red,
As young men and women in crisp green uniforms
Dutifully spill and shed blood for oil.
Our government says we are bombing in the name of human rights.
But our bombs fall in inhuman geometries,
Such as “Daisy Cutters,” with their six-hundred-yard kill zones
In the shape of a flower.
A hospital bombed, a school-bus shattered, a food-distribution center
A bridge bearing a passenger train pulverized,
A bunker with 300 Iraqi women and children vaporized—
“Collateral Damage,” we are told.
They are nameless shadows now,
They cannot testify.
This is war, after all; mistakes happen.
The bursts of cluster bombs
Cauterize a cluster of such mistakes.
The flames of carpet bombs
Throw an obscuring blanket over the shadows of a non-intervention
800,000 massacred in the jungles of Rwanda,
Two million starved or murdered in the killing fields of Ethiopia and
The blood of countless thousands staining the Ivory Coast,
While we watch from the sidelines,
For our corporate interests aren’t threatened by such regional hate.
Caught in the glow of night-vision cameras,
The green sky-bursts of rockets reduce human beings,
To a comforting shadow-name: “The Enemy.”
Enemy? I have no sympathy for Al Qaeda
And I loathe the Taliban,
But are they my “enemy?”
They, too, are someone’s husband, father, brother, son, lover.
Do we not have a world court?
Could we not have trusted even the “enemy”
To deliver one man, hunted and reviled, but not yet proven guilty,
To the judgment of all the world?
After all, the citizens of 62 nations
Lie in the shadows of the crumbled towers.
Which nation lost the most, and who should deliver “justice?” And
It is PEOPLE who were consumed by flames and shadows.
Today I am a victim of September 11, identified or still unknown.
Today I am a grieving parent,
Whose wounds are not healed
By distant bombs.
Today I am a merchant of Kabul.
At last allowed to shave my beard,
I am a woman of Kandahar,
Newly emerged from my prison of blue cloth.
Today I am also the parents
Of a Taliban killed in the prison of Mazar-I-Sherif,
Asking in tortured silence how their son
Lost his way on the paths of a religion of peace.
Today I am a Kurdish villager,
My skin still raw from Iraqi mustard gas,
My eyes still raw from crying
For my burned home, my burned children, my ever-burning heart.
Yet today, too, I am an Iraqi mother,
Grateful for the education my leader permitted me to have,
Grateful for the hospitals that saved my daughter from pneumonia
Before the bombings closed them;
Grateful for the treatment plants that gave me clean water to drink,
Before the bombings poisoned them.
I am fearful now for my daughter, made emaciated by the sanctions;
Yet grateful for each dawn that comes so comfortingly,
Rolling back the darkness of the desert night,
Carrying the scent of olive trees
That still sway gently in the wind,
And grateful for their black and green fruits which spice my food
And add to my modest salary when I carry great baskets of them to
I am grateful, I am happy, I am heartsick, I am enraged,
And I am utterly confused,
Not knowing what to feel or think in a world turned upside-down,
Above all searching for answers I cannot find in bombs,
Raising even more questions that haunt me
In a blur of flames and shadows.