POETRY SPECIAL: House of War

HOUSE OF WAR

poems written between January 15 and February 28, 1991 (Operation Desert Storm)

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

1991/2003

INDEX

WAR

1 / First Shot
2 / After War is Declared
3 / Oh How I Wish
4 / Desert Warfare
5 / Message to the Tyrant
6 / House of War
7 / In Praise of Michael Hannon’s Poem “History of War”
8 / Checkerboard
9 / Utter Nakedness
10 / How We Wake Up
11 / Window
13 / Moose Head
14 / Alternating
15 / A Mosque in Place of a Factory

FABLE

1 / Invasion
2 / After the Invasion
3 / Audience with the Leader
4 / The Leader
5 / The Depth of the Invasion
6 / His Death
7 / The Final End of All
8 / Aftermath
9 / Years Later
10 / The Leader’s Ghost
11 / The Messenger
12 / Punctuation
13 / The World in a Grain of Sand

HEAVEN

1 / Heaven?
2 / The Language of Heaven
3 / Oh, You Can’t Get To Heaven…
4 / After All
5 / Glint
6 / From This World
7 / Garden Gate
8 / Top Window
9 / Spiral
10 / Snow
History of war by Michael Hannon


PREFATORY NOTE:

As I write this on March 17, 1991, less than a month after the War in the Persian Gulf, Operation Desert Storm, the very memory of the war seems to have disappeared from most peoples’ consciousnesses.  People who were glued to television sets and radios during a war whose machinery was so meticulously described day by day, but whose living targets were left entirely out of the picture, these same people seem to be going now about their business, comfortable in the notion that we are now the greatest military power on earth, able to wield the Iron Fist wherever we deem necessary.

These poems were written during the entirety of the “Gulf War,” beginning with the famous January 15 deadline set by President Bush to Iraq’s President Hussein, and ending a scant forty-four days later, on February 28. They were not written as a separate reaction to the war, but as ongoing, diary-like entries to a manuscript started on June 15, 1990, entitled “The Heart Falls in Love With Visions of Perfection.”

At first I couldn’t write about a war that had so many tangles of ambiguity about it. The notion that seemed to best explain our passionate response to Hussein’s monstrous invasion was that we were fighting to ensure our oil supply, more than the proclaimed selfless defense of Kuwait’s sovereignty and the stomping out of the expansively “Hitleresque” Hussein. Trained by the Vietnam War and eight years of Reagan to not believe our government’s explanations of anything, I sensed from the beginning a more opportunistic motive in our chest-poundingly altruistic willingness to commit such a vast military to the affair.  Still, at the beginning of the war, even though Muslim, and very concerned about the Muslim populations who would suffer, it was hard for me to make a telling emblem of the war that connected my outrage to both sides with what was actually going on. Finally I was given an almost Disney-silly vision of the retributive vengeance against man by the dinosaurs on the desert sands, plundered fossil fuel getting its own back as it were, and so FIRST SHOT began the series that followed, jump-starting me into poetic action.

As a Muslim American I found myself hating Hussein (and his army had proved themselves largely barbarous during the Iran-Iraq War), but hating Bush’s no-budge attitude and obvious determination to go to war from the start even more. Hussein didn’t need coddling, but it seemed that the usual two-dimensionality of American thinking was at work again, as well as our predictable machismo.  And what was Kuwait?  An unjust monarchy of spoiled autocrats with an overabundance of wealth and a vast underpaid and maligned immigrant work-force. (It is interesting to note that the Prophet Muhammad’s V peace be upon him aVmain worry about the Muslim community in the far future was not loss of faith, rigid dogmatism, and so many other perversions of prophetic revelation, but rather what would happen to the Muslims when they obtained wealth, the undoer of his message, which emphasized the spiritual virtue of poverty.) 

And what about so many non-Muslims stationed near Muslim holy places? The idea of westerners so close to Mecca is a nightmare to Muslims.  One day, according to the Prophet’s traditions, Mecca will be conquered by non-Muslim forces (which could be extended to include non-muslim “Muslims” as well) but we all hope that it won’t occur in our lifetimes.

So, as I wrote the poems, trying to get a fix on the whole thing, including my reaction to Michael Hannon’s poem “The History of War” (at the end of the book), I finally came to a kind of transcendental stance with gCheckerboard,h where we alternate between tragedy and hope from square to square of our mortal journey to eternity. 

In a sense, the most important poem of the group is “A Mosque In Place of a Factory”, whose title is taken from a line of Arthur Rimbaud’s “Season in Hell,” (“I became accustomed to natural hallucinations, I saw a mosque in place of a factory.”)  Although a romantic comparison of the cool, Moroccan-remembered mosque with my present office job, the implications of that comparison in the poem are what the war is really all about.  Excluding the expedient circumstance of Hussein’s monstrous invasion and brutalization of Kuwait, what we have is the highly mechanized, secular, technology-superior western world defeating with one or two slams of a clenched iron fist centuries of traditional culture, a culture largely concerned with worship and simplicity, however prone it is to be dominated by a power-based dictator like Hussein. 

After a while I gave up entirely, and began writing about heaven. That series went along for a while until the end of the war, when the poem gSnowh was written, tying the theme of heaven with the anguished hope of war’s resolution a unified human vision of purity.

I only thought about presenting this segment separate from the entire collection as a reaction to the war because we will have forgotten this war very quickly.  Once it’s out of the newspapers, it will be virtually a blank, and “we can get on with the business of…”  After all, it seemed less like a war (during the conflict it was not certain since there was a good chance that the “ground war” was going to inflict heavy casualties on the “Allied Forces,” although there may have been intentional overestimation of their power to make America look shiningly invincible sooner).  In fact, it seemed more like an extermination action than a war… a highly efficient and High-Tech extermination company went to the Middle East, wiped out a few thousand cockroaches, and returned to get back to their “normal lives.” It didn’t take months, it took only forty-four days, and the majority of the Allied deaths were from “friendly fire,” or the usual percentage of deaths by mishap that take place during operations using such lethal machinery. 

But the Middle East, the Muslim world, the Arabs, will not forget.  Their hope of possible salvation from Hussein’s tyranny from the western nations was dashed when, instead of saving them, the west bombed them “back to the Middle Ages” (shades of the Crusades?) during horrendous numbers of bombing raids twenty-four hours a day for almost the entire forty-four days.

Of course the real enemy to the western world, especially with Communism entering the geriatric wards, is Islam.  Even as the West sucks at the tits of their oil rigs. And the Crusades are apparently not over.


ADDENDUM:

Putting this book of poems together so many years later, in March of 2003, we are at the brink of another war, a violent and sickening repeat of the Gulf War, but this time striking at the very heart of Iraq, Baghdad, and the Iraqi people, whom the government has conveniently confused with the single monstrous person of Saddam Hussein himself, thinking that by decimating thousands if not millions of innocent Iraqis along with a few sub-monsters with innocent blood on their hands, we will have sufficiently rid the world of evil, perhaps once and for all at least at the heart of the Middle East.  Then we can sit like a puffed up spider at the center of its web and control the rest of the region, pulling here and there, unless we’re terrorized out of existence ourselves.  The poems are so relevant to the fast-forward of twelve years with a Bush clone in office, Bush Jr., surrounded by almost all of Bush senior’s sinister cabinet, that it almost feels more like a regurgitation.

An explanation regarding the second section: Fable.  I had written this sequence some time after the first and third section as presented here, when the war experience had sufficiently entered a realm of imagination and meaning, but when I thought of including these poems with the others, it seemed the middle was the best position, like Purgatory in Dantefs scheme, Hell being War, at the beginning, and Heaven where it should be as well, at the end.

I do not reckon that God is heedless of the acts of oppressors; rather He defers their punishment to a day in which eyes are turned upside down and hearts are reduced to thin air.  Quran: Ibrahim 42

Avoid oppressing thus protecting yourselves from the cries of the oppressed for surely between the oppressed and God there is no barrier, even if that oppressed one was a disbeliever.  The Prophet Muhammad.


WAR


1 / FIRST SHOT

Woke with a
  start, with a
start, has the first, has the
first shot, the first shot, been
  fired yet? Over an
  oil-soaked nugget? Prehistoric
hairy and scaly
  creatures mashed to
      black ooze between
deep rock stare back at us
all the way from
their time, crack of
  vengeful dinosaur’s roar above
    smoothness of
      sand. Has the

first shot, the
  first shot been
  fired yet? It’s
2:45 in the
  middle of the
  night in Philadelphia, and I’m
  shocked awake. A
distant blue flame with
sharp scarlet edges writes distinct
  sword-shaped loops of live
    acetylene that strings men like
pearls one
  breath at a
      time on its ghastly line. First

shot yet, has the
  first shot
    been fired yet?

1/15/91


2 / AFTER WAR IS DECLARED

Chopped swans, cracked ratchets, picket-fence explosions
  where splinters each flecked with that
    ideal whiteness form in the air for a
split second another
  pointillist portrait of Abraham Lincoln weeping. Choppy

seas, all mirrors suddenly cracked, exploding
faces, walls, trinkets, lockets, pockets, foot-lockers,
  pocket combs, sharp
    edges pummeled through
  lathe and plaster walls, a white satin slipper on a
white satin pillow become suddenly capable of
    machine gun impact,
whirlwind corkscrewing miles underground fits
neatly into an ironed front shirt pocket, space become
enemy to the objects within it,
inhabitants menaced by the
  air they breathe, war on the
radio, war on TV, easily swallowed between four
    pastel walls through an unwiggling cord from a
plug in the baseboard, while

Elsewhere
iron mountains of extreme light pound
  down through flat roof and skull, skies in
      flame slip down chimneys and
        craniums, hearts burst into
passionate shrapnel, the light of illumination truly
  enters peoples’ veins, but they

        can’t do
          anything
          with it.

1/16


3 / OH HOW I WISH

Oh how I wish the poem, spoken
  meaning, could just walk
right out into bright sunlight holding the
    bloody lion’s head aloft and the
sprung hatchet, resolve
  everyone’s ambiguities, put
    war to rest, point
directions for peace-time projects that include
the care of children, the singing of high
  melodic songs in massive
  unison, the coming-together out of our
separate houses into a central
  circle of true adoration and glad praise, seeing
together up through battleship gray twilight an in-focus
clear perception of planets usually hidden, how I
wish it were so easy!

War changes everything, puts hair on the
  backs of our hands, makes
      men and women immediately bald. Bald as
eggs. Makes eggs
  burst into flame. We eat them
and burn. No one even
looks the same after a
  war. War is the
    pits. Literally. 
      Swallows us alive.

1/20


4 / DESERT WARFARE

Desert of dead camel’s eyelash lying flat under
  flat glass sky boiling hot, broiler of
    intellects turning thoughts from
      raw to crispy brown. The sun is your
toothpick. Teeth of light across gums of smiling horizon, smiling
the rictus smile.

This postcard slipped into a front shirt pocket, in which also lie
a map folded into twenty squares, tiny red X’s where
suspected strongholds are, codes etched in a small
reptile’s jawbone, seemingly
  inconsequential artifact of someone mindlessly rummaging all
    day in the sand. Photo of, torn and bleached out
photo of, with a crease, grease-stained, emulsion
  almost worn off, photo of that beloved
other human on earth whose thoughts you can almost read even
a million miles away, face you could
  recognize out of multitudinous
    crowds, even from among the
stretched-out dead if you
    had to, among rows of now-colorless
      faces uncovered, breath you’ve smelt, caught in your
own lips, parallel ribs felt, soft intimate parts felt in the
dark or light, now so

far away, your own soft intimate parts become now so purely
utilitarian, grungy with sand, annoying, not
those once-febrile messengers
  of the pangs and passionate satisfactions
        of love.

1/22


5 / MESSAGE TO THE TYRANT

What began as a single flame in the
  palm of your hand can
certainly set the whole
    world on fire. Your eyes roll with

visionary excitement, gazing past
      jabbing palm-cupped flame-tips down
  straight main avenues, busy harbors, whole
    continents, open sea, all of it
burning nicely. Faces imploring you through
heat-ripples like so many
ignited match-sticks in the dark,
    muffled sounds of
sobbing mixed
  with the healthy crackle of
forests going up in smoke, caverns of black
  jewels deep underground bursting on the
    surface like
    seed-cases pouring out their
      secret contents, and

oil wells, those pillars of fire to the
    stars, Corinthian columns of
        purest flame, sucking up fuel
    forever until their
      reservoirs run dry—from one small spark in the
palm of your hand to an
entire global conflagration is all very
possible, Oh man of
  human skin around tissue and bone, with
two live eyes of a seeing jelly, muscular
  heart of an inner
      warfare only God knows for sure over
        desolate terrains,

such a fire set by your living flame is
possible

but you will
    burn too.

1/25


6 / HOUSE OF WAR

The earth’s on the ceiling and the
  sky’s on the
    floor in the
House of War. Green igneous horses beat shoe’d
  hooves in
    closets in this
narrow house. Smoke
  fills rooms, from
    metal cigars. Men, stripped to the
waist, light
cigarettes off their erect nipples, useless until
  now, so
    primed are they for
    killing—innocent-faced and
lax-bodied in sleep, shielded in the
      loving arms of dreams.
The walls close in. A volcanic
rift in the floorboards, suddenly
horribly clattering mechanized metal contraptions with
  sharp edges and
    whirring blades
        carom down through the
roof reducing to
  incandescent nuclear negative everything that was
      so alive before in the
       
        House of War.

1/27


7 / IN PRAISE OF MICHAEL HANNON’S
    POEM “HISTORY OF WAR

This time we’ve really got our
  heads screwed on backwards.

Battleships land in the
    bathtubs in our basements.

Eternal Return, a little earlier than scheduled.
Black filmy scarves
  with imprints of faces
    flung up against our windows.

Dear brother, I don’t
  know how you do it, but there’s a
depth to your landscapes even
    owls have to
    fly through in silence. Snow-white owls of incredible
wingspread, faces of full moons with
  grief hung over them like eyelids. The
muddy waters of grief from which you
    dredge up beauty. The blasted
wrecks of crucifixes dotted down humped hillsides.

Golgotha was never
  like this.
There
human sweetness mixed with inhuman sourness
    in drops of blood,
      facial terror, epiphenal peace—
  even if it was just a
    quirk of the mind. But

this war is precision machinery zeroing in for the kill,
soft organs below stopped by
  the victory of mathematics, the
      grim Nintendo of physics.
The new god of Technology
  powerful over all.


(new stanza)

Man’s hope
  leaps to his lips,
but in other rooms, up
other dusty stairs,

into other sunlight.

2/4


8 / CHECKERBOARD

Checkerboards lead to eternity’s
  gate. On each alternative
    square stand cosmic
opposites with feathers on, shooting
    fireworks out of their heads,
flexing ponderous muscles or
  pursing gossamer lips.
Zigzags of
  light run
      electrically between them. You
step onto one square, the music is
thunderous, raw, bursts your
  eardrums in one
    clap. You
  die on the spot. Step onto

another square, soft flutes in tones whose
sweetness makes you swoon in atmospheres of
  gilt-edged clouds and milky nectars
poured from pewter spouts. You’re in
heaven. Nothing could be
  better. Step across its

threshold onto the next square and jagged doom
hurtles down onto the exact spot you step on and
into your mortal form from top to bottom before you can
    even stop to think. Step onto the

next square…


2/4


9 / UTTER NAKEDNESS

Even with the desire to confront
  each nakedness of God’s creation
    with my own utter nakedness, right now the
body I have to confront it with is
  an assemblage of puzzle-shaped rocks, not some
evanescent capsule of millions of captive green
  Ariels in mid-flight. At this moment it’s an

unpredictable tunnel through an
  unmapped mountainside toward only a
fabled Elysian Field where
similar anti-gravity vessels of eternal
  good-humor might play cloud volley-ball.

Usually sieve-like in front of immaterial reality’s
household furniture, the daily copse, waterfall, traffic-
jam, a scattered transparent
    body consciousness at
    all hours of the
night or day, usually as
swift as something
  waterbound whose subtle flick of
    back flipper propels it at quick
miles per hour to some
  poorly lit grotto full of
tasty pearl-fish,

now, at time of war,
the molecular inconsequentiality of my own body-gauge
becomes problematically elephantine, mud-stuck,
bottom-weighted, dense, waterlogged, heavy-hearted, woefully in-
  adequate to the task of
    utter nakedness.

2/6


10 / HOW WE WAKE UP

We never know, when we fall asleep, exactly
    how we’ll wake up, or,
some might add, with whom!

Day seems to slice clean from night. We might wake up
  with fever, as if some
    insidious sprite with malevolent
      doctor’s bag had
  entered us in the dark, or
gloomy into the pillow face-down in the dark we wake up
gloriously happy face-up in the morning as if the
birds outside the
  window were
    whistling out of our bones.

We went to sleep alone, and woke up with
Marie Antoinette, in flounces, trying on rings, or
Mozart, hollow-eyed, rushing to finish his Requiem.

So much terrain gets traveled by night, behind
  shut lids. Automatic heartbeats the
motor in one of those
woody station wagons, hurtling through African bush,
  chasing zebra.

We might wake up on the other side of one of the most
spectacular meetings of our lives
    with the One True Living One,
      no formality, only embraces.

Or we might wake up on some
  distant desert battlefield after a
    night of mortal terror

with our heads blown off.

2/6


11 / WINDOW

I’ve got a
  better landscape in Philadelphia out my window when I
    wake up than I did in our house in
California. There we
    faced busy Milpas Street, had to hang long
semi-transparent blue material across the large front window so that
during the day there was always soft
  leaf patterned light from that
    side of the room. Here out my

top-floor window as seen from the
  bed are the
  opposite row houses with their
      almost picturesque Dutch peaked
    roofs, wild
      trees made spindly by
        winter sporting their
    intrepid one or two leaves, and flat above,
sky with all its
    mood indigo temperaments. Right now it’s a
  dull pewter blue 6:30 A.M. color.

Just outside the window stands the stripped oak.
Thin, bare branches stretch sclerotically into
      thin air. Spring will bring
    its anticipated surprises, especially in the
color area. What goes on
  either side of the
    window is
      subject to
  change without notice. Only

      God stays the
        same.

2/8


12 / ASHAMED

Suffering an acute embarrassment at the
  brutal ignorance of my own people—the
    white man—watching in
horror a cardboard cynicism with painted smile on and
air-brushed twinkle in eye
lie outright and categorically, transmitted by the
  magic of electronic multiplication into peoples’
      private living rooms with a face on the screen
big enough to kiss, our un-
  Achilles-like leader, our hee-haw man, our
mechanical single-minded and suddenly
  suspiciously-purposeful man who thinks nothing
(equal to his now historically equated opposite, and our
  President Bush himself made the true monster Hussein his
    mystic twin by sinking
      in some ways to his
ruthless level) who thinks
nothing of bombing men, women and children on bridges or
authorizing air-strikes twenty-four hours a day for an
entire month on
undeclared-war-on Iraq (an Iraqi shepherd boy
  reported being chased around his
    field repeatedly
    strafed by a bomber), always referring to those
“surgical-strike targets” and “collateral damage” as
“him,” that bad mans, that
    eater of children and youths, as if a
whole population were
      just one evil scumbag, our
president “perfectly at peace with himself,” who might show
just a little bit more
  genuine horror at what he
    feels he has to do.

2/9


13 / MOOSE HEAD

Double doors, double windows, a
  moose head ten miles high and bleeding appears
    for a split second over our cities. In its
big moose eyes are all the
sorrow and hunger we’re capable of, all the
sobbing and hoping. We writhe like
  eels at the feet of this giant moose, his
regal bearing and redwood-tree-like antlers spreading
out above skyscrapers like a storm.

What beauty! Brute strength modulated into
  homely elegance, all the animal kingdom’s
incessant predicament summed up in those
basset-hound eyes, kaleidoscoping out into
    our own. You sit up at the

breakfast table, you open the newspaper to its
apocalyptic headlines, the same old
  apocalypse morning after morning, tea-steam
intertwines past the blurry print, the
    out-of-focus pictures of
      twisted tanks, falling
  missiles. And then, above it all, out the
breakfast room window

this colossal moose head, bursting into
    flames, looking
      right at you!


14 / ALTERNATING

Alternating the
  broken with the fixed.

Skillful dichotomies, skull full of diced
    anatomies. Indianapolis—
the Speedway. Indigo braid around the
  general’s picture. Seen through red tint.

Indivisible, under God. Who
    does not occupy space. Space
      cannot balance a
        relationship with
That One. Fast or
  slow have no
    bearing. His

Invisible Face!


15 / A MOSQUE IN PLACE OF A FACTORY

            “I accustomed myself to simple hallucination:
            I saw a mosque in place of a factory.”
                        —Arthur Rimbaud

The door to the 2nd floor of the office where I work
  is not that of a mosque with its
    carven arch, calligraphic reminders, starry tiles,

the steps are not cracked and worn stone,
the office space with its florescent lights is not
  cool side-niches where people do private
      prayers behind pillars, the

individual desks are not areas where people with all their
    individual longings finger prayer beads
        and move fervent lips in silence,

but hard, actual metal desks with
  computers on top of them, screens
    illuminated by the serpents of electricity, not the
benevolent light of the generous poor sharing the
  little they have, unfathomably
      happy smiles on faces that seem worn down by
        millenniums,

but here bright-faced office folk in deep mental concentration
    sit at keyboards punching in
rational info by the screenfull, phones
  ring, deadlines tighten like nooses around thugs,

nothing is ever done
  fast or thoroughly enough, and once it’s
    done in whatever
fashion, strangled by the deadline, phones ring,
  black marks get written up on
    calendars and the
      deadlines begin again, not the

Final Deadline alone gazed upon with loving eyes in brimming hearts
  by devotees of humility on
      bare mosque floors
by soft ochre afternoon light
(no stanza break)


where time always seem to

          almost
        stand still.


2/15

 

FABLE

1 / INVASION

The first of the people to pour out the city’s gate were those with
shaggy hair and long black coats, and they had
hidden valuables in the linings of those
  coats hoping the giant Nubian guards in
    red vests and pointed caps wouldn’t
notice. Then came children, hurried along by a

giantess in white robes, then women with chairs,
the older first, with spinning wheels on their
backs and cupboards full of china, then the
old men, holding tools, shovels and rakes over their
shoulders, hammers on straps, balancing
tables on their heads, then an explosion of

animals, goats, horses without saddles or riders,
a few yelping dogs obviously enjoying the
  hubbub, someone with a
    bird-cage, the bird hopping and
shrill, finally the
priests, self-absorbed, hurrying with
    tall banners and embroidered flags,
small silver boxes, copper globes the size of
  baseballs, scrolls in
    special baskets, and the Impervious

Jewel, mounted on a base of black onyx, chased in
      beaten gold, not
impervious after all, the invaders had
entered the city and held it with an iron fist
and their
  false power filled every
cobwebbed nook and
    cranny with its
      obscene strength.

4/8
2 / AFTER THE INVASION

On the bright morning after the invasion, the first to
  enter the city’s gate with
    obsequious smiles on well-scrubbed
faces were the dignitaries with satin sashes and lavish gifts,
shiny patent-leather shoes with
    pointed toes. They tiptoed among fuming
debris, sidestepped
    blood puddles, gingerly
  picked their way between bodies, entered the
Grand Palace’s outer courtyard, were led through
  dark corridors, brought to
      one dead-end after another in the
  twelve-story maze constructed to
    disorient any intruders as to the
        leader’s true whereabouts. Several

officials broke down. Several dropped their
  treasures, let freshly redrawn maps
      unroll in the mud, complained for
lack of air, begged to be
    taken to the entrance again, let
go or even to
    start over. There were

no women, either as
dignitaries or as
guides. And the men in attendance had

hardened to the point of shatterable glass, robot-steel,
corpse-stiffness. Fear of
powerlessness had made their faces
          stone.


3 / AUDIENCE WITH THE LEADER

Like the report of a gunshot echoed in zigzags down one
  empty street after another,
the facade of greatness that overwhelmed the
      visitors hid the actuality of the leader’s deepest
fears with a splendid explosion of importance.

Formal protocol in which someone might wait for
hours for an audience, ushered finally to a royally
  outfitted antechamber presided over by a
  long-bearded grenadier in armor. Hushed
entrances and exits. Silent
    emissaries with equally silent
      retinues made to
        huddle in corners. All this

rigid ceremony only increased the adrenalin level of
apprehension, so that when a
  visitor with trembling dossier was finally
called, he would be
  taken to a special room to be
      fitted with a tight sterile gown in
    pale colors, taken barefoot across shale cold to
the soles of his feet, finally set inside a doorway in
      complete darkness for
  hours on end, and not even allowed to
sleep before

setting eyes on the victorious leader at
        last.

4/8
4 / THE LEADER

The leader was actually a man with
  repulsive habits and a sagging
    lower lip. Blind in one eye, impotent,
limp in one leg. Whose nights were crowded with
  vile dreams. Who had never been allowed into the
society of those among whom he felt he most belonged, and so of
  course those were the
    first to be shot against the
  cold stones of the wall outside his window one
misty morning, he watching by the
  window hidden by drapery. He was

tall, and still wore elevator
  shoes. Within the mass of
his unpleasantness shone one of the
  great satanic intellects of the age, un-
    paralleled in its ability to dissect
countries and personalities, ideologies and their
weaknesses and strengths. He surrounded himself with

inferior minds whom he flattered into thinking
each one of them alone was given the
true teaching and the deepest
  trust. When the

leader turned against the wall at night in his bed,
the shadow of a huge up-arching
  twelve-headed serpent devoured him, expelling him
whole again in the
  morning to sow

    further incertitude.

4/8
5 / THE DEPTH OF THE INVASION

What the leader didn’t know was that for every
    centimeter of his invasion into
      innocent territory death was
invading his heart and pushing him
  deeper into the earth, into the
        dark spongy earth, past its
    crust of credibility. For some

death is a filmy maiden of breath-caught beauty garbed in
  fresh moss. For others it is an
open bedroom window onto yellow fields past
  midday. For others it is a long
tunnel over gray waves that tilts
  up into purer and purer territories. Song
accompanies it. Blades of
  light whirr at each side in sharp
      margins of joy. For the

leader of the invasion, whose cruelty had sculpted
even his most innocuous movements, death was an
iron chair in which he sat as king that slowly
pushed him down and down into the
solemnity of its mineral components. Carpets of
iron filings covered him, twisting in cyclone
  patterns of swirls, configurating
a divine thumbprint pressing so
constantly against him that his
  bones became hollow enough to echo his
    mortal sighs, sighs of an old

grandmother at last instead of

victorious Napoleon of the world.

4/9
6 / HIS DEATH

Finally the leader found himself
  completely alone. And no amount of vengeance
against him could possibly even come
  close to duplicating the sinking
  helplessness he felt. Where heaven may be the
shining void, hell is emptiness. Emptiness where no
look or gesture reflects back at you, but goes on
stuttering to its final disappearance forever. Cigarettes
  smoked one after the other to convince himself of some
enduring existential substance only wreathed him in a clotted
    smoke so dense even
      demons had difficulty
        picking him out of its turgid coils.

There is a final portrait of him at the
end of a diminishing hall, not in one of the
fine classical palaces he built over
    conquered stones, but in a
whitewashed barracks, by the sagging door of a
latrine, clutching his
  belly, unable to breathe, every
breath taken with effort containing a long line inside it in
      photographic detail of those
murdered at his hands as if their live corpses were
  climbing the very ramp of his breaths onto the
    lugubrious sinking
      ship of his body. Faces turned toward him, neither

accusatory nor glad, just
turned toward him, watching. Interminably
        watching.

4/9
7 / THE FINAL END OF ALL

The mound under spindly cypresses
  wouldn’t have him, the stretch of land overlooking the
    sea disgorged him as
      soon as he was in the ground—in the
morning they found him on the surface
  surrounded by dirty quarreling gulls. The rocky part of a

dark forest wouldn’t have him, nor the
commonest part of a mass grave, the corner nearest the
recently assassinated ambassador. Finally nothing of earth nor
    possible regrowth and merciful forgetfulness
would accept his
mortal remains, doors and windows refused him
  entrance or exit. As they carried his purple corpse past walls
    on a rude plank even the
      walls wouldn’t take his
  running shadow—people saw the whitewashed walls
shrink away as he passed. The oven

rejected him. He kept coming out of it
unscathed. Where others seem to
    almost swim back into their constituent elements,
gladly distributing each atom to its
magnetically attracted mate, iron to iron, calcium to the
    roots of trees, or
      as in the case of true saints
mossy blankets of earth softly cover them without
touching them, keep them intact in their fleshly bodies in
  delicate green embrace until the Resurrection, the

tyrant’s remains wouldn’t burn in fire, sink into
  earth, dissolve in water nor
    evaporate into thin air. He stayed a
stone among stones. Only the
      final end of all could
  pound him into his
      components and scatter him into the
        origin again.

4/9
8 / AFTERMATH

The first ones back in through the gate were the
  women with the spinning wheels, the children on their
    rickety bicycles, the patient animals, the yelping
      dogs. The old men were slow to return, and when they

did return they walked heavily and wore
  shame on their heads. Not a
    shame they could pinpoint, it was
not even entirely theirs. As if their
  fathers and their fathers before them were the
    low-hanging gray clouds above their
heads on the day they returned, that’s all. The gravitational
drag of natural phenomena. And whereas when
a loved one departs you’re slow to relinquish mementos as
improbable as a toothbrush, and every
photograph or piece of writing is cherished, the
images of the leader were gone in a day, some
perished in a great blaze, others, statues, plaques, even
      all the thousands of
  skyscraper-high posters and millions of
    postage stamps, pulverized and
powdered much more
      easily than his actual
remains. Then a kind of numb

stillness took hold of the town. The cage-birds
pecked at their seed uneasily. People bartered in
  hushed tones. The wind in the
    cypresses moaned a particularly
low moan throughout the
      next few seasons.

4/9
9 / YEARS LATER

Sitting on a terraza, drinking strong
  coffee, among people chattering about
    giving up smoking, it’s harder to speak about
constructive stretches of vigilant peace free from
    corruption than about
years of torture and brutal suppression. In our

wrought iron chairs around round cafe tables,
        waiting for a messenger.

Listening to a
    mockingbird. Sad faces recall
electrified bed-frames, talk down long corridors in whispers,
disappeared friends. Friends who turned out to be
  enemies. Easier to bewail in intellectual
weariness the mechanisms that led to tyranny from
without than to catch hold of the elusive firefly—
  he said figuratively—of successful patterns of
wisely governed existence ignited from within and

carried, as a candle in high wind—again
    figuratively—to shine in the center of our
society as a beacon for all to see by. Maybe it was this
mental utopianism that had gaping vulnerabilities in its walls
that allowed such monstrosities as the
  tyrant to invade. But the countryside was

relatively calm now, safe from intruders. The
new governors were ruling with only
moderate corruption. We

  sat on the terraza, drinking
    strong coffee, waiting
      for a messenger.

                      4/9
10 / THE LEADER’S GHOST

Some claim they have
  seen his ghost haunting the
    armaments depot, standing behind the
governor’s chair when the
    senate is in session, suspending a huge
      ripe watermelon in stasis above the governor’s
  head during long debates. Believers in

reincarnation say he is only
  one man, from the
    beginning of the world, Cain perhaps,
citizen of the most
  basic human betrayal, unthinkable but
fact, eon after eon, in garbage-lined alleyways or behind
glass-topped corporate desks in glossy offices.

His ghost down wide avenues, pushing its
  hands up policemenȡs sleeves to
      reduce their aspirations for justice to
    snarling animal hatred. As the

world of humankind stands stunned at the
apparent latitude given to
tyrants, aided by
  humanitarian governments,
    accompanied by mass choirs of their
      mewing subjects
(like King Farouq, these tyrants grow fat and parade immodestly
  by the sides of
Swiss swimming pools), those who have
    seen his ghost marvel at its

survival, its uncanny knack for
      indomitable survival.

                          4/10
11 / THE MESSENGER

The Messenger revealed himself to the
  leaves of trees and the
    trees bore fruit, both
edible and mysterious. The edible fruit ran its
luscious juices down chins of children, soaked
  beards of old men, was thoughtfully cut into
    sections by quiet women watching over
the peeled and sliced world.
The mysterious fruit burst like lightning above
    nomadic herdsmen, nervous travelers, inspired
  explorers and the
        long silent, suddenly
    whisking away filagreed screens of self-
      satisfied distraction onto an
open abyss of dark emerald crags and steep
    ravines, chasms down which you can glimpse
a starry sky so bright blue it seems like
  day down there. Star-twinkle roars up its
    colossal light. Beams of it
shoot straight up sheer sides to blind our
entire faces as we peer over with such intellectually
      justified hesitation, and makes us
see right through eyelids made suddenly transparent, through the
actions of tyrants and their victims: The victims who raise up
  tyrants on sticks in the
    dualistic cosmic Bar-B-Que; and
  the tyrants who melt down like
    common candle-wax after their
      tremendous passion has been spent.

                          4/10
12 / PUNCTUATION

God Himself is the message:
The Messenger is God’s punctuation: To
  question, pause, stop. Then
    to exclaim. And the
exclamation point is the shout of an
    existence that precedes our individual
    births and surges from so
deep within us and rises with such force that
factory windows a thousand miles away
shatter into star fragments, deserts become
even more humbled in their dips and flats by the
sheer weight of it, an
  obliterating exclamation of Godhood that
blots the sun and makes the moon, for a moment,
fertile. The human tribe dances on its

heels and toes in a great swirling circle at the
    echo of that exclamation, forest
animals cock their ears forward, some become
  curious, take a few shy steps out of total
animal darkness. Even ocean waves flick silver
    tips in assent at the flattening
      impact of that exclamatory song of a
Unity so great that actually
life is many mouths singing from one voice, many
voices from one larynx, many vocal-chords from the
    resonance of
  one heartbeat, from cloud to stone in one
    absolute
      vibrating chord even giddily flittering
    gnats in flickering firelight
        understand.

                  4/10
13 / THE WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND

Gusts of green wind blow across dunes at high speed
  sweeping some dunes away, revealing
    dunes that slope and float across
      sand. Light falls straight down in dry
pools between smooth breasts of sand. Wind
blows its purse-lipped breath across angular
      divine particles, each one containing
a world. Rearranges them in carpet
patterns woven on the warp and woof of pure materiality.

Grain-worlds jostle together. Cubas of insurrection collide against
Siams of elegant formality. Chinas of monumental
populations get flung up against
  Samoas of dwindling folk-wisdom, men and women with
long brown faces looking at
  firelight, watching significant
      gestures of sparks scribble
    gold alphabets against black
      night. Worlds lie next to each other as a
softer wind blows. Gusts become puffs, then
steady streams of cool air

as I lean over your body gazing down into your
eyes blowing green
    breath across your breasts against a
      backdrop of all the swirling
worlds in the world, all the

sloping grains of indistinguishable sands of the
        shifting dunes of you
          at rest.

4/14

HEAVEN

1 / HEAVEN?

How can you describe heaven if you’ve
  never been there except in
intimation, sighting along edges of
    dream? How

should it look, feel, sound, taste, thrill you?
A couple of silver park benches in front of
silent waterfalls? Forbidden
  desires suddenly granted as
unprohibited after all? Everything so painful on earth
  reversed? Banks and banks of hydrangeas cascading down to your
    toes? The roof of every locale shaved off onto
    sparkling sunlight that opens up every
  experience ever experienced however
      high or low to its crystalline central light?

It all begins on a
  very high note, the highest note possible to
hold within human sound-range, then in as
  relaxed a fashion as a slumbrous summer afternoon
    hammock-snooze, it goes a
      million decibels higher and
      wider, tastes of all the
cool juices tasted here, but now in their
sub-original flavor, burst into
    being in heaven, the absolute
  core tang of quince, apple, tongue-
      sweetness of peach, nectarine, tasted

in a sky spraying like a slow-motion shower without end of
  silver roses seen once by themselves
      and then seen as backdrop
        behind everything else
            forever?

2/21
2 / THE LANGUAGE OF HEAVEN

Iron palaces, no, nor gossamer. We’ve got no actual
  language of heaven to
    speak it with except some
obliquely slanted musical chords and
    certain limpid song. Slant of space-dimension
cutting at an
  angle through this one. Right through

a scene, say, in a busy downtown street-snarl of
  gray and buff, soot and flesh-color
hubbub of people in coats, women with
  baby-buggies, trucks trying to
    maneuver narrow streets, and
wham! Right through it a kind of

celestial tunnel unseen except by those with
    already heaven’s eyes, yellow
  light in a huge band at an
    angle that runs totally
      counter to material geometry, it
      can’t be plotted, exists outside
        space and time,

two blunt truck-noses with distracted drivers,
one grumpy policemen whistling and gesturing,
  seven hurrying pedestrians in opposite directions,
one blind girl in checkered coat with patient dog
    all pass right through the
  beam and perhaps feel
  deliciously different for a
moment. Rustle of wings there. An

  altitude higher than visible sky. Unseen
      light at lightning intensity.

Goings-on beyond expression. Hush
    of the unspeakable.

2/21
3 / OH, YOU CAN’T GET TO HEAVEN…

Heaven up the back stairs, or
  heaven in an open Mazaratti going 90
    through saw-horse barriers at the
  border between known territory and the
takeoff into ozone celebrations beyond our
      wildest dreams, which turn out
for those in the back seat with their
eyes open to be the
  light on the screen the projector projects when the
movie’s run out. Lots of clicks. A
    flickering ecstasy against no
      dimension you can put your
finger on. We try to storm heaven,
    get there with
  our shoes on, think, day after day, in and
    out of our clothes, we’ll
live forever. Whoever’s seen a

beached seal, sleekness gone, a dead gull, gone
      flat and bristle-feathered after such
      flight, pale
    grandfather in his
      coffin,
cheeks made up with circus rouge, long
  days in a gray climate, the sense of
another world to this one
pressing down against our windows, invitingly,

whoever restlessly scans horizons on the outward shore or
      inward shore, sits
  still for a moment in one of a million passing
    light-beams, may remember a
      heaven whose entrance lies

        just around the corner.

2/22
4 / AFTER ALL

Finally, heaven might be much like
  everything is now, but without the
    deadly enervation that weighs down the
      finales of all our actions. The same

inner feeling of
  spacelessness, sensation of
walking through walls, although in life encased in
fleshly molecular vehicles we
  can’t just breeze through, molecules keep
butting into
    molecules, blocking their
passage in some sinewy and
    beautiful way, down
      wooded
      lanes, on
        golden afternoons, but without the

soft lights and mauve music of
  concrete existence we might just
    slip through blissful ozone (this all pure
      speculation of another
        hopeful soul in the
        usual mode of wanting either a
reassuring preview or
greedy for celestial deliciousness), after all it

opens out this existence in a
  marvelous way to think that
perfect heaven waits at the
      other end of it
  without all the
        earthly atmospherics, but in great

    rushes of good feeling. Even now, at times,
          we might
  actually count ourselves already among
      glad denizens of heaven’s
        sparkliest margins.

2/22
5 / GLINT

Suppose you could see all
  heaven in a glint on a doorknob, in a
    pin-point of light on a metallic curve, its
gliding trees, vaporous lakes, pools of
    quicksilver reflections throwing bright
  landscapes onto your face in which sweeping
translucent birds leap from branch to branch into
      shelters of darkness in intricate
        briery thatchwork,

from the single
glint on a curved brass doorknob as you were
about to nonchalantly turn the
    handle in order to enter a
      room you didn’t feel much like
entering, a perfectly
    routine matter, one

glance showed you
everything to the uttermost curve of its
  edge where a latticework of
    light-needles in dazzling, changeable
patterns becomes actual
  sky, a world of shimmering
forms telescopes all around you, your
  stride is at once
    frozen and
      free,

lilac splendor in a single
    heartbeat becomes
        a fiery tree.

2/23
6 / FROM THIS WORLD

No house too small nor
  window too great to let in God’s
    icy storm of golden glare, light
beyond compare! Shouts up the
  icicle world’s full thrust into
    expedient air. Wonderful
staircase that elelvates the limbs,
  faces float on their
    stems along walls into
interior atmosphere. All these

frequent faces that pass and will pass and have always
  passed by everyone and look so
      familiar in one
single lifetime, while we are making our
  hasty departure, having just
met, going to a more
    faithful lover, the Absolute.

No face there to
  obscure our desire, up the
    celestial banister. Filminess in ice-vapor whose
coils become warm as our
  touch becomes embroiled in their
    oily hair. Lifted like an isotope from its
    sheathe, an ingot from the
      red hot furnace of this
  world’s colossally
        mundane affair.

2/25
7 / GARDEN GATE

Things aren’t turning out the way we
    thought they would. Roosters

don’t crow us awake each morning at their
  own appointed hour. The labor of

plucking fruit off trees, scooping
  salmon from rivers, planting
    corn in the cool and watching it
ripen in the sun, just behind our

lavishly laid out table with hand-carved, hand-painted plates and
      cleverly carved forks, has turned out to be more of a

wrenching experience than anticipated
in cities that have become traffic snarls with or
without backdrops of belching
  smokestacks and skies of coal-mine grime that

paint the faces of children to look
    old beyond their years.

Horses don’t
fly, carpets don’t rise, flowers converse on a
    spring twilight but we
      understand them only
  with difficulty, our lexicon too

        humanized to catch the subtlety of
sand and stone, passion-flower or towering oak. Insects
land on us, then leave us alone.

The Gate to the Garden of Paradise is
wide open, where immaterial ease is
the norm, but the
  road to it is a gravel whose

each individual rock seems like
      Himalaya’s height,

      Himalaya’s form. 2/26
8 / TOP WINDOW

It seems it would be easy to turn from the world’s
nagging television screen with its
  crackling pictures to the marginless
    tunnel of rapturous emptiness that
      sweetly surrounds us, turn from the
snarling chihuahua of lust that pees on my
  leg, that is
shoo’d away but comes right back to
pee on my leg, attracted by
  raw flesh, instead I could

spend the minutes of gray thoughts on stuttering tracks
that proliferate strangely
on the focused pursuit that
  generates a plate of quicksilver so
vast it drowns the tallest mountainpeaks to provide
a rippleless flat surface for God’s breath to write
steam script on that we can
read upside-down or right-side up or
from the side to see the
tiny but readable Braille bumps of sublimity.

Oh yes, the desire is there, and in winter’s
long snow-dusted nights, the longing,
and in the nerve’s lovely metronome the royal telegraph from the
Source, and in the
heart the great Throne room with its
hushed draperies, its solid dream
furniture, its dazzling
  transparent butterflies big as the
    Grand Canyon flying like
sparklers toward the
      topmost window and
          radiating out.

2/26
9 / SPIRAL

The sublime spiral (look, how elegant!),
  sublimity itself (it corkscrews the air),
so much depends on it (meat on bone),
    as a “natural principle” (my, my, how erudite!),
we suddenly see (against a
          backdrop of quicksilver),
in every size-domain (small-big, high-low),
a maddening and totally equilibriating
  motion (inebriation
        itself), the saber-dance of the
spiral (quivering,
              jabbing),
the oceanic nautilus (suds
    pouring from its
        sides), the
              behavior of
history (corkscrewing motion),
  psychology of the
      masses (against a
        backdrop of quicksilver),
owls turn their
          heads (to face us and stare), hoots as of

white snow (falling through
    whiteness), the

        sublime spiral
      (sublimity itself)!

2/28
10 / SNOW

I wish it would snow tonight, not some
  puny drifts at the
    bases of bushes, blended-in mounds around
silent porches, not just homogenous
      glitter of white aligning
material distinctions into fine albino smoothness,

I had the desire, climbing the stairs tonight, not for
  a run-of-the-mill snowstorm,
I wish it would
arch over with that close darkness and then
let go of a snow so
long it would be as if a
  hundred years were encapsulated in an
    hour, cities would
fill up like swimming pools, ruined
  streets with yanked open
houses fill to the tops of their
    telephone poles and
keep going,

soon a
snowfall of perfect symmetrical minute coliseums of
God’s radiance would
fill the world, cover the wrenched and smoking
    armored tanks of defeat as well as the
smile-frozen ticker-tape parades of
  victory, fall in continuous
layered rivers of crystals to make a
    peak to the lowest point of
heaven and, step by step, we could
  climb the slippery side to
sit in a snow-lit pool of
      clear blue

facing with a face of snowfall’s white
a slow and endless avalanche of light.

2/28/91 (after the “cessation of hostilities”)
HISTORY OF WAR
by Michael hannon

The eternity one sees in the mirror,
and the darkness before dawn. This imitating that.

The world assembles, note by note:
black waves, autumn leavesơXversions of self.

One glimpse of the real kills outright,
but that bullet isnft made of language.

Names of God and His prophets, their addresses!
Revelations gone sour, hearts made of real estate,
the righteous patrol these centuries, these blood stonesX
still in love with the idea and its surface.

aMy God is bigger than your God.
Another day another martyr.
Well, whatǡs the worst that could happen?

A forest of smoking stumps.
Where we thought the ego was, not even a void.

Evening throws its crazy shadow on blank walls.
The present recurs, and the universe assembles:
quasars, black holes, ten billion light years!
Storms of boiling ammonia savage Jupiter,
cyclones three times the size of planet earth.

The winds of paradise are blowing.
False gods and wishful thinkers canơt murder fast enough.

1991


Originally written in 1991 during the Gulf War, but tragically relevant today.


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