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Saturday, September 01, 2012


by Lex Runciman

Image source: IRN

Seventeen people were beheaded as punishment for a mixed-gender party in Musa Qala in Helmand - a village battered by fierce fighting between coalition forces and the Taleban. --New Zealand Herald

Like music, this name, a distant place.
Story, Musa, muse – my small education
trying for connection.
Seventeen beheaded bodies
found, we are told now, in this place.
Because they sought a fever and release,
intensity and company.  They wanted to dance.

Graceful, the passive voice, no who did what,
and we do not want to imagine being
that person drawn by its smell to a room,
smell blood-sweet and nauseous, fear
rising in the gullet, sound of flies, a hot place
but green along the river, Musa Qala,
Fortress of Moses.

Through this doorway
passed human arms and hands carrying a body
shot in the dark, decapitated, the intimate
bone-and-flesh effort that took,
seventeen times hands and arms full,
hands and arms emptied.
Windows shut, quiet room.

The bodies wrapped and red.
It must be I am now past outrage.
Who are these stilled, no urgencies of wish,
all song and wonder stopped?
How do I know them?
How to say this – where do we look?
Where are their heads?

Today, this early morning not in any news,
my window open a few inches
into August just gone, I want to say
the truth is – and I stop, the sentence
as unfinished as summer for every deciduous leaf,
breeze desultory with wheat chaff,
sun slanting in, listening, waiting, seeing it all.

Lex Runciman is a professor at Linfield College, in Oregon.  He has published four books including most recently, Starting from Anywhere, from Salmon Poetry (Ireland) in 2009.