POETS CORNER: Visiting Iraq

24th Dec 2014

She opens the door to a mud brick home
Welcomes me inside, lips cracking
Her smile, tight as a rope, frail as a bird,
Caged, sad, singing no more.
Greets me, as I walk through the door, thanking her for her hospitality.

I take off my shoes, she’s barefoot. She says
“Few people remember this custom.”
Shoe prints dance on the walls, the ceiling,
Her children
Trace the shapes with their bony fingers,
Play on blood-soaked carpets.
Her children,
Running, laughing, crying,
Laughing again.

In the living room, I eat alone,
The sumptuous meal she serves me
Meat so rich, it could well be human.
I count a hundred oil lamps lighting the room,
Burning, wasting the fuel
Which should have kept her warm at night.

It’s prayer time,
A carpeted room.
She didn’t tell me of these noble men.
Seven princes, one leading the prayer. Ali.
Joining, I bow and kneel and rise.
And as we submit to the one, true God,
they become the masters of my heart, and I the servant.

“The bedroom is this way. Rest well” she says as she leads me outside,
Leaving me in the rotten underbelly of her home.
An army of tombstones,
Housing the sleeping inhabitants of her history.

I lay beside the smallest grave,
And sleep, and dream, and ask my little neighbour
What has brought an infant to the house of no tomorrows.
“We all,” he said “have been sacrificed
On the alter of man’s greed.
And we have all” he breathed
“savoured a drink from the cup of death
To feed the living hungry
Whose hunger won’t be satisfied.
And whose fat throats roar in eternal thirst.”

I cry a muffled apology, as my hostess shakes me awake.

“You must go now,” she says.
Tears swell in her eyes, ashamed of her request.
“I fear,” she explains, “guests who outstay their welcome.
When I can no longer feed them, they beat my daughters,
And slaughter my sons,
And scribble ‘freedom’ on my front door.
I’m sorry that I must ask you to leave.
I hear your words of promise,
But they too have promised, and they all have broken their word.”

As I lace my shoes, my heart, too, is laced close.
I feel her gaze on my back,
Whirl around, and look at her beautiful face.
“Goodbye,” I say to a collection of creases and shadows and scars.
“You won’t be gone for long,” she smiles.
I know.
Tiba Abid

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