Contests : War Poetry Contest : Past Winners : 2011 : Pamela Uschuk
In my hand, the bird of fear twists its beak to read
the horoscope that predicts its own conquest,
fear that scrapes the gut raw as green curried peas, fear
caught in the shear winds of torture, capsizing
places like Myanmar where hundreds of unarmed monks
are shot or beaten until their flesh is the ripped
color of sacred robes saturating capitol streets.
Take Venus, blood diamond that rises
over sun's death. What does it regret?
Thousands of nerves frizz, go numb
with nothing left to say when knuckles
splinter on cheek bones or labia
are hot-wired to Delco batteries
in the heart's interrogation chambers.
Last month the surgeon stripped
my brother's esophagus, that chemo-frayed ribbon, from
his chest, pulled up his stomach
like a tender purse, sewed it
to the end of his throat. Vietnam combat Vet
drenched again and again in Agent Orange,
he grew lumps that shaped themselves to one
tumor, a topographical map of fear,
with hooked fingers squeezing
off what he would eat to survive.
In my lifeline, there has never been a year
without war's acetyline scorching
tongues from young mothers, strapping
plastic explosives to its teenage chest
assured of a righteous recliner in heaven, flensing
strips of flesh from children to sell
in tyranny's global convenience stores.
Between the Mound of Jupiter and red
Saturn, I'd draw deeper my heart line
to ferry those Congolese boy-soldiers
hopped up on amphetamines, hefting m16s
taller than their twelve year old spines
before they can massacre more village girls
with whom in other lives they
might begin to flirt.
On Arrowhead Mountain, we measure the size
of a puma's prints in spring mud, crossing
elk and deer tracks, kicking up
soggy moss as it sprang. From its mangled
winter nest, unvanquished,
the bird of fear still wails.
WHITE PHOSPHORUS AFTER HANUKKAH
From the stench of her wounds,
still burning the hospital bed, swaddled
in agonized air, this woman's grief
scalds like the specter of her daughter
when the missile hit, splitting
her kitchen and incinerating her baby
in her arms. Her daughter vaporized
as she watched. Smoke
wreathes her arms, her chest
that continue to char
just as the afterburn of her memory still
sears deep screams, hers,
her daughter's blurred with
the reptilian hiss of Israeli missles
sizzling to Gaza, tracing beautiful arcs
to her kitchen.
or monster could imagine this?
Even students know white phosphorus
burns under water, boils
in tissues so deep they no longer resemble
anything so much as cooked goat.
What seven bright angels
of hope can call this the Promised Land?
A nurse wraps this woman's arms in yellow
salve, kisses her forehead
with cucumber's cool lips. Her daughter
rises from ash, carries the baby
into her mother's room.
Take it all back,
she sings. Take it back. Back.
Take it back before Hanukkah
and its deadly Festival of Lights.
THE TALIBAN TAKES PAKISTAN
Women should be outlawed like plastic bags,
says the adolescent to the female journalist
wrapped in a red shawl. Her hands
are the same color as his. In an empty room,
near the Pakistan-Afghan border, the boy sits
crosslegged after school, where he is learning
the alphabet of becoming a suicide bomber.
Why should they be allowed to wander the streets?
he asks, not joking in Farsi. Women are for domestic.
That's what they should be. Flattening
dark as land mine lids, his eyes
never move from hers nor see the way
she tries not to recoil. She knows she could be
executed for this interview. Clamped
in the boy's right hand the Koran
is written in Arabic he cannot read.
His words stutter like bullets fired from an Uzi
or doves on fire. He wants to join the Taliban,
God willing. Those burning wings flare
as he recounts the day American missiles
shattered his everyday village. Helicopters
diced the air above his head as he ran
to search adobe rubble for his beloved cousin.
We looked everywhere, his mouth ages,
quivering into commas of grief,
but already the dogs were eating him.
All we could find to bury were his legs.
We had to carry his legs home
in plastic bags.
These poems won first prize in the 2011 War Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers. Author Pamela Uschuk received a $2,000 award. Copyright is reserved to the author. Ms. Uschuk has kindly made available to us these YouTube HD videos of readings of these poems:
About Pamela Uschuk
Pamela Uschuk is the author of five books of poems: the award-winning Finding Peaches in the Desert, One-Legged Dancer, Scattered Risks, Without the Comfort of Stars: New and Selected Poems (New Delhi & London: Sampark Press, 2007), and her latest, Crazy Love (Wings Press, 2010), winner of a 2010 American Book Award. She is also the author of several chapbooks of poems, including Pam Uschuk's Greatest Hits (Pudding House Press, 2009). In 2011, Wings Press will release her new collection of poems, Wild in the Plaza of Memory.
Translated into a dozen languages, her work has appeared in over three hundred journals and anthologies worldwide, including Poetry, Parnassus Review, Agni Review, and Ploughshares. Pamela Uschuk is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Fort Lewis College, where she also directs the Southwest Writers Institute. Editor-In-Chief of the literary magazine Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts, Uschuk lives in Bayfield, Colorado. She was the John C. Hodges Visiting Poet at University of Tennessee, Knoxville during spring semester 2011.