Do Not Rush
to make a judgment.
You can savage a body at speed.
A city can be ruined in an hour.
A love of decades dashed in a second.
It takes nine months to start a life.
It should take as long to end one.
After a trigger is pulled and before
a bullet lands, give nine months
to the target to welcome the hole,
to accept the blood, the blunt lead,
the new body. I know it is possible
to allow a death to gestate. Watch
time mushroom out from a bomber
and seasons unfurl on the city below.
Spring in Baghdad to winter in Aleppo,
one final semester of learning, a retreat
by a river, time enough to be thankful
for old books and DVDs borrowed,
to study the bullet or the blast with
a lover’s eye. It seems a short goodbye
but last year alone America dropped
26,171* bombs on brown bodies,
on our trees and animals and homes.
That’s 235,539 months or 19,628 years
to process the devastation of one.
Honestly, I am unsure of the maths.
Give or take a week, millenniums
are still owed to the lost. I don’t know
how to calculate for the land or
the numbers for the unlucky survivors,
the dust-strewn rubble-reapers looking
for family in red rocks, for burned
paper that might hold a shred of name,
for safe waters that will not drown
them, for borders that will not cut
their feet or demand they unstitch
history from their backs. Call it
an ugly flag. Plant a new one
in their mouths. This kind of loss
has not been measured, it has no body
count, but we have all the time
in the world to weigh it now.
We have all the time in the world.
When I wrote this poem in 2017, I was referring to statistics from 2016. As I write this in 2018, I can tell you that in 2017 America dropped 40,000 bombs. From 2014–17, a total of 94,000 bombs. In my lifetime alone, the sheer tonnage of destruction and chaos that has been unleashed on majority Muslim or Arab nations has been nothing short of catastrophic, year after year of staggering violence which the population of Western countries seem to accept. Go back further, past my lifetime, my mother’s, and into my grandfather’s and you will still find ample military campaigns and Western-backed violences to highlight the sustained injustice against Arab peoples. You could not do this to those you saw as fully human. Though I had not the heart to seek out the full body count of Iraqis, Afghanis, Syrians, Yemenis, Palestinians – the refugees drowned in wave after generational wave of forced migration, of certain death at home or a bleakening hope abroad– the munitions alone tell a deadly, horrifying story.
Omar Sakr is an Arab Australian poet. His new book is The Lost Arabs (2019), forthcoming through the University of Queensland Press. His debut collection, These Wild Houses (2017), was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Calanthe Award and the Kenneth Slessor Prize.