Summer 2009 - THE POTOMAC

Three Poems
   Elisa Albo

Radio War Snippets

Turning the car ignition on, my hand flies to the knob
to switch the station or pop in a music CD, to stop
the radio news snippets that shell my daughters’ ears:

    Eleven people were killed today…
    A bomb exploded in southern Iraq…
    Government forces attacked insurgents…
    A roadside blast injured 23 civilians…

“Killed,” “bombs,” “attacked,” “dead and injured”—
words they’ve heard their whole young lives,
the Iraq war, the occupation, older than they are.

I try to shield them, but amidst the daily rush,
the urgency to strap on their seat belts, get to school,
the store, their lessons, I forget I left the radio on.
If only for a moment, they hear, little sponges
who absorb so much, so quickly, like any children,
like all children, like Iraqi children, their ears tender
to bombs, blasts, mortar shells, gunfire, their hearts
tender to the snippets of their parents’ whispers,
their cries and wailings:

    His mother only went out to buy bread…
    His father was looking for a job…
    Her sister mistook the mine for a toy…
    a bomb… U.S. forces… a roadside blast.

My daughters: They may not get it, but they hear it.
Iraqi children: They hear it, they get it, or they will.

Mostly Found: Music, Madness, and the Military

A counter-terrorism expert with her own blog on July 16, 2007,
stated on C-SPAN that when our government says we should
have a personal emergency plan, we should listen. A caller
asked her to define “terrorism.” “The ability to inflict fear for
political reasons,” she said, with no hint of irony.

On the same day, The Miami Herald reported on the People
page that the Dave Matthews Band “is urging fans to push
Congress to do more to ensure...U.S. troops coming home
traumatized by combat get the help they need.” More than
a third suffer from “traumatic brain injury” and “post-traumatic
stress disorder.” Meanwhile, some recent reports indicate
“some troops’ service-related mental health problems have
been misdiagnosed by the military as preexisting personality
(italics mine).” Dave’s petition asks Congress

to investigate. Same day, previous page, under Nation Briefs,
the headline reads “Trained Sniper Suspected of Killing Wife.”
A National Guardsman apparently “shot his wife to death while
she sang with a band in a restaurant and bar.” The Cheyenne,
Wyoming, couple had recently separated. The wife “was shot
in the head just after midnight Saturday as she sang with
the classic rock and country group Ty and the Twisters.”

Little Kids, Little Problems

My daughter appears in my bedroom doorway, long dark tresses
pillow messy, too early with her bright “Good morning, Mommy!”
She leaps into bed, presses her head hard against my breastbone.
I can hear her breathing, her skin as she rubs her smooth leg
against mine, her giggle entering my ear. When she was an infant,
her colicky wailing would cease once she was tucked under my arm
in the body-warmed sheets. Her breathing would grow steady,
and I would scoop her up and carry her back to her crib when
I really wanted to keep her all night. Someone told me no matter
how difficult each stage, enjoy it; soon they’ll be grown up and gone.
My father says, little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems,
and I try to recall that when my favorite lipstick or black permanent
marker smears the living room wall. Thirteen million children
in the United States live in poverty. Across the ocean, millions
more go hungry each day; their mothers watching, their fathers
ashamed. This morning the sky grew large, gray with rain clouds
after too many days of sun. I welcome rain for the sound, the clean
smell, the green it creates. I want my daughter to sleep through
the night, to stay in her bed. No, I want her to come to my bed,
to crawl in when a dog barks, thunder rumbles, or the hog next door
revs its engine. Snow is cracking a sidewalk in suburban Chicago.
Years ago, a little girl saw the ocean for the first time and burst
into tears. I once dreamed of nests, one nest so big I climbed in
to rest. Sirens blare outside my walls. Light enters a stained
glass window through a palm tree, a wide blue ocean, an orange
sun blinking from behind nearly transparent cirrus clouds.

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