Tag Archives: anti-war poetry

Gabeba Baderoon: A Deeply Beautiful Poetic Voice from South Africa

In memory of Winnie Mandela, the brave freedom fighter against apartheid in South Africa who died this week (and if you have any doubts about her heroism, read this), I searched the work of South African poets to find a favorite to post here, and with great delight discovered the powerful, gifted voice of Gabeba Baderoon. The recipient of many awards and also the praise of well-established poets, a bio can be found here.

She is equally adept at addressing such public issues as war, oppression, and national tragedy, and the very small personal details of life, infusing a special magic and lightness of tone into whatever subject she chooses. Here, on war and social tragedy:

WAR TRIPTYCH: LOVE, SILENCE, GLORY

By Gabeba Baderoon

I. Always For The First Time

We tell our stories of war like stories
of love, innocent as eggs.

We will meet memory again at the wall around our city,
always for the first time.

II. Accounting

The mother asked to stay.
She looked at her silent child.

I was waiting for you.

The quiet of the girl’s face was a different quiet
Her hands lay untouched by death.

The washer of bodies cut
away her long black dress.

Blue prayer beads fell
to the floor in a slow accounting.

The washer of bodies began to sing
a prayer to mothers and daughters.

The mother said,
who will wait for me.

(on the aftermath of the bombings on a holy day in Najaf, Iraq)

III. Father Receives News His Son Died in the Intifada

When he heard the news, Mr Karim became silent.
He did not look at the cameras,
nor at the people who brought their grief.
He felt a hand slip from his hand,
a small unclasping,
and for that he refused the solace of glory.

And here, a more personal detail of no apparent significance takes on that magic we seek in poetry.

THE ART OF LEAVING

By Gabeba Baderoon

The warmth is leaving
your shirt, hanging
over the back of the chair. Slowly
it is giving back everything
it had of yours.

Here she gives love and relationships in a different context, allowing the physical and emotional elements their space, time, and an unexpected transcendence.

THE DREAM IN THE NEXT BODY

By Gabeba Baderoon

From the end of the bed, I pull
the sheets back into place.

An old man paints a large sun striped
by clouds of seven blues.
Across the yellow centre each
blue is precisely itself and yet,
at the point it meets another,
the eye cannot detect a change.
The air shifts, he says,
and the colours.

When you touched me in a dream,
your skin an hour ago did not end
where it joined mine. My body continued
the movement of yours. Something flowed
between us like birds in a flock.

In a solitude larger than our two bodies
the hardening light parted us again

But under the covering the impress
of our bodies is a single, warm hollow.

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Filed under Human Rights, Middle East poetry, Poems and War, Poetry, Poets, women poets, Women's poetry

Warsan Shire’s “Home” Speaks to Refugee Crisis

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Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, whose star I hope will keep rising, expresses in powerful words the complex and gut-wrenching situation of refugees, especially from wars and outrageous oppression. She is a rare voice with such impact. In this time of atrocity, as the world watches Aleppo being annihilated by the brutal Assad regime, we need her voice in all its raw force. This is poetry for sheer survival.

Home
By Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home2
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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Filed under Human Rights, Poems and War, Poetry, women poets

Eighty Deaths, Each One Death

The horrifying events in Nice last night feel beyond the reach of words. The feeling of horror and loss, of people who had been traumatized and bravely moving forward now traumatized again. Again the cruel and senseless gaming of mortality…for whom? For what? How can we live?

Not in answer, but just some words that seemed to relate. This poem, one of no doubt many. Keeping in sight that each death is its own tragedy, yet a mass death, like a war, is a collective tragedy. Going to war will not stop it, as some may imagine. To stop it requires more honor and dignity than war can ever offer.

To His Love

By Ivor Gurney

He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswold
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn river
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now …
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers—
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

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Filed under Poems and War, Poetry

Henri Cole: Poems about War

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Henri Cole’s work gets to the heart of things. Originally I sought poems relating in some way to the tragedy in Orlando, but war is less in the news yet an ongoing source of constant misery, as we have seen in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

War Rug

The pony and the deer are trapped by tanks,

and the lady with the guitar is sad beyond words.

Hurtling across the sky, a missile has mistaken

a vehicle for a helicopter, exploding in a ball

of white flame. Upside-down birds—red specks

of knotted wool—glow above the sideways trees.

Hidden among plants, a barefooted boy waits—

like the divine coroner—aiming his rifle at something,

enjoying the attentions of a gray doggy, or maybe

there’s a bullet already in his head. 

Hand Grenade Bag

This well-used little bag is just the right size

to carry a copy of the Psalms. Its plain-woven

flowers and helicopter share the sky with bombs

falling like turnips—he who makes light of other

men will be killed by a turnip. A bachelor,

I wear it across my shoulder—it’s easier to be

a bachelor all my life than a widow for a day.

On the bag’s face, two black shapes appear

to be crows—be guided by the crow and you

will come to a body—though they are

military aircraft. A man who needs fire

will soon enough hold it in his hands. 

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Filed under Poetry, Poets