Sunday at the Farmers Market

      “The bombings were routine.” 
      White House spokesman, Summer 2001

All of our farms are strewn with fine ashes
of cities burned in war, whose bone dark smoke
bore aloft baby carriages, books, light
summer blouses, all loosely wound in wind,
then flown back home to us. In a cool rain
comes the answer to the question in fire.

What Dresden might have warned, before their fire
turned envelopes and ink into ashes,
is lost, as shapes in clouds are lost in rain.
Some café poet paused for a quick smoke –
both cigarette and poem burst out in wind
sweeping toward our bombs’ more insistent light.

Ben Tre awoke to its own heavy light:
Old Reliables artillery fire
scattered families in gravelly wind.
Others, afterwards, would stir through ashes,
kinfolk rising in a more mannered smoke,
lofting to sea in swirls of monsoon rain.

Tons of what had been Tokyo terrain
were rearranged one night, rendered, made light
enough to rise as high as bombers, smoke
smudging like contrails, hissed rumor of fire.
Superfortresses farmed deep for ashes
eager to follow the cold plowing wind.

Sweet children in Haiphong did not get wind
of our Phantoms’ 500-pound bombs’ rain
until even jarred ancestors’ ashes
broke open like eggs to the morning light
and took flight in a liberating fire,
rising toward heaven in the western smoke.

Look to the horizon. Do you see smoke?
If not now, then later. Too soon the wind
will bring chairs, hats, portraits retouched by fire.
Khartoum? Skopje? Tehran? Just what will rain
on our farms and lawns, delicate and light?
Our crops will taste of sepulchral ashes.

We’ve smelled the smoke too often. Pray for rain,
a gentle, calming wind, refreshing light.
No more fires. We’re still covered in ashes.

A note on this poem

Between the end of the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the United States conducted periodic air attacks on Iraqi military installations and some civilian infrastructure. These attacks significantly degraded the Iraqi military before the invasion, but also brought a great deal of death and misery to the Iraqi people. To call years of peacetime bombings “routine” is both accurate (given the extent of American military operations since 1990) and disturbing to the conscience. This sestina was published by The Hollins Critic in 2008.