and post notes and photos about your poem like Gregory Richard Barden.
* This is a re-post of an older poem *
* This poem was written for a contest originally, but was used by Professor Anne-Marie Thornton of Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, to teach her WAR POETRY class in the spring semester of 2017. My sincere thanks to her and her students, (who I got to know through their work, photos and interaction), who made this such a joyous and rewarding project! *
Her small angelic face ...
Once a place where broad smiles bloomed like butterflies on marigolds,
is streaked with the furrows that countless tears have etched into the
layers of dust and dirt and explosive residue that now paints her skin,
like the branches and courses the mighty Nile has carved into the ages.
Her sweet little-girl voice, that in better times was the conduit of joyous
laughter born straight from her belly, is now hoarse and scratchy from
the screams and cries that follow every explosion and rattle of gunfire,
and every vision of horror that reality serves up each day instead of food.
But no matter - she has little need to speak anymore. Those amazingly
blue eyes - as azure as any summer sky, and once sparkling like sun-pixies
dancing on the wave-tops of the Mediterranean - now stare ahead with
vacant darkness, a shadow that only hopelessness and apathy can cast.
Like her beloved baby doll, Amia, (stolen from her days earlier), there is
no spark of hope or life dancing in her gaze, just the watery shimmer of
sadness, always on the edge of tears. She is wearing her favorite dress,
a pink and white seersucker pinafore, with little blue piping on the straps.
The hem and bib have the same trimming, but much of it is missing, or
hanging, torn. She wears a sharp-creased white blouse Underneath,
though it has been a long time since it LOOKED white. One of the straps
is almost worn through, and the dress has little tears here-and-there.
Her shoes were also once her favorites, but the toes are now balding,
and the saddle-shoe tones of white and tan are gone, covered with dried
mud and scrapes. The beautiful pink polka-dot ribbon she had in her hair
is wrapped around her left leg, on a wound that would not stop bleeding.
She has smaller wounds and scrapes on her legs and arms, and one on
her head that is very bothersome, as it is filled with maggots - she hates
the feeling of them squirming in her flesh, but she was told that it was
best to NOT remove them until she reaches Damascus and medical help.
You see, maggots only eat dead tissue, and will keep the wound clean
until she can receive proper treatment. That wound is almost as big as
the one on her leg, both were from an IED that killed the rest of her loved-
ones as they were trying to escape the fighting on the road from Raqqa.
That seems so long ago to her now - years ago in her mind - and she
has been walking ever since. Sometimes people are kind to her and give
her food, or watch out for her for a while, but it never lasts for long,
and it's hard to know who to trust, as everyone else is desperate, too.
Sadly, some of the adults she has met have tried to do bad things to her,
but she has always been able to run away ... so far. She prays daily for
an angel - maybe someone from her town that will offer help, but each
new day just brings more strangers and hunger ... more dust and dirt.
She holds close to her mother's burqa ... it may seem a silly thing to others,
but it was made by her grandmother, and she uses it at night for a pillow, (folding it over-and-over) ... it is also stained with her mother's blood,
and that is all she'll ever have of her family now, so it is precious to her.
Other than a package of bubble gum in her pocket, and some dog biscuits
that she nibbles on at night, (hidden in her underwear - others will steal
them if they know about them), the burqa is all she has in the world. Well,
she has memories, but those memories are now stained and broken, too.
Even her best memories are beginning to drift away with the dust and
hunger and horror ... she strains now to remember the faces and voices
of her family, especially her mother's voice singing lullabies, (she sang them
to Amia before she was taken), but even those things are abandoning her.
Those priceless memories are slowly-but-surely being devoured by the
maw of hopelessness, and like her small Hello Kitty suitcase, her hoodie,
her wallet of family photos, and the package of food she left with, it has all
been taken by those who saw her as opportunity, not one needing help.
But war does strange things to people, she's told, war changes people.
So, for now, she keeps walking and praying, and she will TRY to hope that
she reaches Damascus and medical care, (though she has learned that
hope holds little comfort), but safety isn't guaranteed her there, either ...
And she will remember what the ugly man who took her food and suitcase
and hoodie and photos said to her ... the brutal, angry phrase that some-
how helps to push her on, when her feet are blistered, and her bones are
aching, and her eyes and nostrils burn, and her spirit is empty and broken ...
The cold thing he said to her, laughing, when he took her doll Amia, (for
his own little girl), and everything she had left in the world ...
"Gotta travel light, little girl ... travel light!"
~ 5th Place ~ in the "JP Contest 6: War and Heroism Poetry Contest", Jamie Pan, Judge & Sponsor.
~ 2nd Place ~ in the "Travel Light Poetry Contest", Kai Michael Neumann, Judge & Sponsor.
Copyright © Gregory Richard Barden | Year Posted 2019