“Here’s a poem, “You Pray to Rain Falling on the Desert” (from my book, Bright Body), that I wrote just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I read it at the celebration of the 85th anniversary of the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, on August 27. I said in my introductory comments that I hoped one line was not true for the present moment. That line is “It is the eve of war.” — ab
You Pray to Rain Falling on the Desert
because it is a Sunday where the sky is blue nearly every day
and you might forget to be sad.
Because you don’t sing with a choir, except the quiet
rain intoning on the backyard patio—
and the raindrops outside are not the human voices
you must listen to.
Because in March rains wake up desert flowers
and globe mallow blooms everywhere—burning bushes
in the Valley of Fire and vacant lots waiting for gas stations.
You will see their orange blossoms flaring through your windshield,
and no voice will say I am.
Because the rain will swell Lake Mead with our water for drinking
and bathtubs and gardens full of thirsty grass, roses, and oleander.
Because the fatal bacteria will die in treatment plants.
Because there are no mosquitoes here, no malaria.
Because the Children’s Hospital is stocked with medicine.
Because the rain will wash away dust and misery
and channel toxins from spent bombs into the ground water.
Because your daughter wanted to walk instead of drive
and she spun in her orange dress, pointed her pink-sneakered foot,
and curtseyed in the driveway
because rain on the desert is a multitude of tender hands
applauding new life.
It is the eve of war
and you don’t believe the broadcast on radio and on television:
I will rid you out of their bondage
and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm,
and with great judgments.
Because the rain keeps you inward, attending
to the outward hiss of traffic on boulevards.
Because the rain is unclear, a vast gray erasing demarcation.
Because the rain makes you tired of the word because,
tired of causes becoming effects, tired of causes, tired of tired reasons.
* * * * * * *
“In honor of the pundits, the media, the statement the president is about to deliver from the rose garden, I offer this poem from my book, Bright Body. It makes me sick that I have so many poems that apply to these days – only difference is that this time around the propaganda is coming from an administration I helped elect, twice, and that ran on a peace platform.” — ab
I have a headache in this photograph
though I am gazing upward like a saint
in rapture, listening to God’s blurry words
written with cigarette smoke, ornate deadly font.
Okay, so I hold a lily in one hand
and an apple balances on the other palm,
but it was for effect, so forget
you saw the poet with the lily and the apple
even as a joke. My picture
needs some underlying fear.
As if in prayer, my hands are folded
on newspapers and magazines
arrayed across the table as if in disarray,
a bit out of focus, yet working
on you just the same. Notice
the open-mouthed head stilled above me
on the TV, the frames within the frame
that inform you, the orange terror alert
and the headline ticker scrolling along
the bottom of the screen—
news, weather, stock prices, pollen count—
everything fit for you to know,
familiar and alarming.
See, in this shot my pen is poised just so
and in my expression you might detect
I’m a bit proud to say—“ouch, my head
hurts from looking at God knows what—”
the emblems dovetailed with feelings so deftly,
we can’t help the tears or wanting to kiss
the icon or the idol, can’t help anything at all—
the composition is crowded with too much:
radiant graininess where I dusted for evidence
of the maker’s fingerprints, the extreme wide angle
revealing my background, halos inlaid
around the masses pressing toward heaven,
though their feet tread on the heads
of the wretched who carry their few worldly goods
in a cloth sack, and a thin baby,
or pull on the hand of the knock-kneed child
who stares you down no matter where you stand—
you’ll find them here, in the bottom corner,
turned away at the border, where smoke rises,
whether from the fire of war or holy incense,
impossible to tell, there’s too much damned noise.
For more information on the work of Aliki Barnstone: