“But in Idlib, nowhere is safe. Almost 50,000 are sheltering under trees or in other open spaces. I am getting daily reports of babies and other young children dying in the cold. Imagine the grief of a parent who escaped a war zone with their child, only to watch that child freeze to death.” Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, February 20, 2020
Some Mothers’ Hearts Have Stopped
Some mothers’ children stare unseeing
No sweet, wet baby kisses from blistered lips,
. . . . songs unsung
No wedding portraits to dust and treasure
No graduations or trips to the sea
. . . .just their bodies to bury
by the engine of nihilism
Limbs cracked and broken, bellies torn
Faces purpled, hearts stopped
“In Syria, only one pocket of resistance to the Assad regime remains, in Idlib province. But since late last year, Assad’s military has been relentlessly attacking the region, and now, nearly a million people have been forced from their homes in the freezing cold. In a war defined by displacement, this is the largest movement of people in the entire years-long conflict.” Nick Schifrin reports this evening for PBS NewshourMORE
The Doves Have Flown
what must it be like for you in your part of the world?
there is only silence, i don’t know your name, i know only
that the fire of Life makes us one in this, the human journey,
trudging through mud, by land and by sea, reaching for the sun
like entering a ritual river without a blessing or a prayer
on the street where you lived, your friends are all gone
the houses are crushed and the doves have flown
there is only silence, no children playing, no laughter
here and there a light remains to speak to us of loneliness,
yet our eyes meet in secret, our hearts open on the fringe,
one breath and the wind blows, one tear and the seas rise,
your tears drip from my eyes and i tremble with your fear
We extend a warm welcome to poet and musician Dick Jones, new to Wednesday Writing Prompt, and a warm thank you to our treasured regulars: Colin Blundell, Paul Brookes, Kakali Das Ghosh, and Sonja Benskin Mesher and to occasional participants Gary W. Bowers and Denise Aileen DeVires. Welcome back!
I’m pleased that Dick chose to write about Abu Ward, a citizen of Aleppo, the city from which my family sailed from the Middle East to come to the United States a little more than a century ago. CNN called Abu Ward the “last Syrian gardener.” He’s not, of course, though there are few like him. Nonetheless, how some support their spirit in the face of a tragedy so monumental is remarkable.
Like my Lebanese grandmother before me, I season my cooking with Aleppo Pepper. I know that it no longer comes from these beautiful people and their cultured city, which was one of the oldest in world. To say the heart aches is understatement. Rest in peace, Abu Ward, and all victims of this multifaceted violence. The peoples of Syria are not forgotten.
Join us tomorrow for the next Wednesday Writing Prompt. All are welcome: novice, emerging or pro. See you then … Meanwhile, enjoy – and perhaps be inspired by – this rather special collection.
‘The presence of the world is flowers’. Abu Ward
This was the man
who planted flowers
where the bombs
This is his son
who kneels alone
by the garden gate.
The dust he pushes
around their stems
with his thumb is where
his father lives now.
And each flower
will lift some dust
as it rises in spring.
Abu Ward (from the Arabic for ‘Father of the Flowers’) maintained his carefully nurtured flower garden during the worst of Assad’s systematic bombing of Aleppo. He was killed by a bomb dropped near his home. His son Ibrahim left school at thirteen to help his father. After Abu Ward’s death, Ibrahim attempted to maintain the garden, which is now closed. Sadly, in this instance, environmental justice has been, as so often, a victim of warfare.
DICK JONES says he was initially wooed by the First World War poets and then seduced by the Beats. He has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of fifteen. His work has been published in a number of magazines, print and online, including Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Westwords, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Rattlesnake and Ouroboros Review. In 2010 he received a Pushcart nomination for his poem Sea Of Stars. His first collection, Ancient Lights was published by Phoenicia Publishing and is available from them or via Amazon. His translation of Blaise Cendrars’ epic poem La Prose du Trans-Siberien… was published in an illustrated collaborative edition with artist Natalie D’Arbeloff by Old Stile Press in 2014. Dick writes lyrics and plays bass guitar in acoustic/electric songwriting trio Moorby Jones.
as you take the road to Paradise
about half-way there
you come to an inn
which even as inns go is admirable
you go into the garden of it
and see the great trees and the wall
of Box Hill shrouding you all round
it is beautiful enough (in all conscience)
to arrest you without the need of history
or any admixture of pride of place
but as you sit in a seat in the garden
you are sitting where Nelson sat
when he said goodbye to Emma;
if you move a yard or two you will be
where Keats sat biting his pen
thinking out some new line of poem
bagged sugar cherry extract oil
of cloves buckminsterfullerene
essences pantheonized for delectation
bottled genies at our command
we so love purities
fleece white as snow
anthracite darkly dense
and we feel godlike
we soupify the sky
we landfillet the lakes
slagsilt the seven seas
it is a remorseless juggernaut
this megamodular magicker
and some of us are waking up
some of us want a different magic
the magic of the camper
who goes sees enjoys records
leaves the site none the worse
some of us want a reckoning
a calling to account
shame and punishment
some of us want to be sheriffs
but YOU STOP THAT NOW
is just like any other war
on any other badguy
and artificial value
has yielded unartificial power
and corruptive pushback
and corrosive continuance
deliverance must come
as with any other childbirth
spasmodically and with some blood
crowning and pushing through membrane
a slap and a gasp and a wail
our magical recording
transmitting devices will help
ill-gotten gains though they be
our one-person choices will help
the enormity of the challenge
the size and perversity of the beast
will be revealed
as you yes you
give up your midas’s vehicles
stop eating the factory-farmed
children of hell’s misery
“places you must see before you die”
serve up justice to yourselves
and fire the single brick
of your life’s commitment
in the kiln
Raise your head
I’m your benevolent mother
My eyes -your azure sky
When you are blown by caustic fervor
My brimming watery eyes turn into serene raindrops to alleviate you
My hands -your verdurous trees
When you lie wearily on my verdant lap
My hands spread florid twigs to shade you
My moist lips -your rivers
When your thirst touches me
Words of my lips turn into rivulets to kiss you to mitigate your thirst
Now -my son
Why are you burning my eyes with your voluminous black smoke
Why are you cutting my hands with your severe axe so grimly
Why are you tearing my lips throwing poisonous blues
I’m your mother earth
I’m your reason of survival -with snowy peaks
Wouldn’t you be just to me
Wouldn’t you be fair to me
Not only for me but also
For your nourishment
For your children’s nutriment
For your future’s sustenance ages after ages …
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
From “The Book of Tao (The Way), Lao-Tse (c 5th Century BCE, China, Zhou Dynasty)
And, as the song goes: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me …” Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller (1955, America)
As we contemplate the theme of Peace during the month of December, we may wonder if the wars will ever end or if violence will ever cease. I know there may be some stern souls out there who question whether our reflections on the need for inner peace will undermine the urgent need to summon all our strength to confront and overcome the machinery of war, the waves of fear, or the agencies of violence. While we think about the need for inner peace, innocents are dying in Syria and Palestine and down the road, around the corner, and God only knows where else.
Why aren’t we out in the streets by the millions? What are we waiting for?
Listen to these words the Angel Gabriel is said to have whispered into Mary’s ear:
There is strength here like the sinew of a mother’s arm.
It shatters the brittle pride of wealth;
It levels the clayfoot thrones of tyrants.
It upholds the forgotten, the scarred.
Hunger both of body and soul will be filled.
Riches will no more be rewarded.
The holy one cleaves to those who keep faith;
It will endure in those who serve mercy.
And then the Promise made to legend ancestors will be kept;
And Peace shall prevail.
I understand and often share the “urge of urgency” over the peacefulness of peace. But this I also know: We live at the intersection of action and reflection.
Self-reflection is no luxury which has to wait until more urgent matters are attended to. It is as essential to our lives as food and drink.
When we don’t take time to know and befriend the darkness within us and in the world we all too soon are overcome by our own inner demons.
Then all our efforts in the name of peace, encumbered by our rage and fear, will only serve to magnify the violence we so wish to quell. What was “the Promise made to legend ancestors”? Surely not peace everlasting—even though we should yearn for and work for and practice peace with every fiber of our being.
The Promise and The Way both lie in the possibility that you and I might come to know the holiness of peace concealed in the darkness of our hearts, our homes, our neighborhoods and THEN beyond—not in some distant land but here at home, not in some long ago time but here, today, right now.
You are the promise. You are the one. You are the way.
Be the peace you seek by seeking the peace in you.