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Saturday, September 10, 2016


by Orel Protopopescu

Khaled Omar Harrah, a volunteer rescuer who spent nearly three years rushing to the scenes of airstrikes and barrel bombs to save lives, has been killed in the embattled city of Aleppo. The Syrian Civil Defense Force, also known as the White Helmets, tweeted remembrances of Harrah, calling him a "true hero" who saved "countless lives." A spokesman for the search-and-rescue group told CNN that he was killed during an airstrike, and was "with other members of his team helping people trapped in rubble." —NPR, August 13, 2016

“Only the dead see the end of war.”—Graffiti on a wall of the ruined Darul Aman Palace, Kabul

How long can angels keep dancing
on the head of a tyrant?

Photos of wounded children can’t stop bombs,
though the soft steel of their eyes
penetrates the thickest armor.

Under the halo of his white helmet,
Khaled Omar Harrah dug through
rubble, through five stories,
untellable stories, compressed,
an illegible album that he opened,
after sixteen hours,
to pull from a hole,
from out of the womb of war,
the best story of the day—
a live child, ten days old,
covered in fine, white powder
like a loaf of bread
for the world to digest.

Where helmets are targets,
to link wings with other angels
can bring down rains that burn.
Yet Khaled refused, in New York,
the false Paradise of exile.
Running toward the sounds
of thousands of explosions,
he sought the cracks
where his light could shine.

Death dropped from the sky
on this relentless angel—
husband, father of two daughters,
a painter by trade—
who had no need to seek martyrdom
by exploding the gates of Paradise.
He knew they were light as eyelids
and could be opened with a smile.

Now those splintered gates
scream on rusty hinges.

Orel Protopopescu, children’s author, translator and poet, has been published by major houses (Simon&Schuster, FSG, Scholastic) and her book of translations, A Thousand Peaks, Poems from China (with Siyu Liu) was honored by the New York Public Library. Orel won the Oberon poetry prize in 2010. What Remains, a chapbook (2011) followed. Thelonious Mouse, her fourth picture book, won a Crystal Kite, 2012, from SCBWI.  A Word’s a Bird, her animated, bilingual (English/French) poetry book for iPad, was on SLJ’s list of ten best children’s apps, 2013. Her poetry has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Light, Lighten Up Online, and other reviews and anthologies.