Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Bag of Bones

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April is National Poetry Month, and I posted one poem per day every day this month for you to enjoy. You have sent me so many poems and suggestions that I plan to use all of them in the coming weeks; I will post one poem per week, on Wednesdays at noon, for as long as you send suggestions for me to share with my readers.

Today’s poem, the last one to appear here during National Poetry Month, is one that I heard the poet read in person when I visited Kansas State University. The poet, a native Iraqi, fled from her home in Baghdad to the United States after being placed on Saddam Hussein’s enemies list. I found the poet’s works, most of which focus on war, to be profoundly moving. I hope you appreciate her words and experiences as much as I do. I have more poems of hers, at elast one of which, that I plan to share in the future.

Bag of Bones

What good luck!
She has found his bones.
The skull is also in the bag
the bag in her hand
like all other bags
in all other trembling hands.
His bones, like thousands of bones
in the mass graveyard,
his skull, not like any other skull.
Two eyes or holes
with which he listened to music
that told his own story,
a nose
that never knew clean air,
a mouth, open like a chasm,
was not like that when he kissed her
there, quietly,
not in this place
noisy with skulls and bones and dust
dug up with questions:
What does it mean to die all this death
in a place where the darkness plays all this silence?
What does it mean to meet your loved ones now
with all of these hollow places?
To give back to your mother
on the occasion of death
a handful of bones
she had given to you
on the occasion of birth?
To depart without death or birth certificates
because the dictator does not give receipts
when he takes your life?
The dictator has a heart, too,
a balloon that never pops.
He has a skull, too, a huge one
not like any other skull.
It solved by itself a math problem
That multiplied the one death by millions
to equal homeland
The dictator is the director of a great tragedy.
He has an audience, too,
an audience that claps
until the bones begin to rattle —
the bones in bags,
the full bag finally in her hand,
unlike her disappointed neighbor
who has not yet found her own.

— Dunya Mikhail, The War Works Hard (New Directions Publishing Corporation; 2005), Translated by Elizabeth Winslow.