The Poem in Context

Editor’s Note: From time to time, one reads a poem of such eloquence that one cannot but wonder about its point of origin.
With this installment, we introduce a series of such poems with a short explanation by the poet of how the poem came into being. Special thanks to Phil Hansotia for helping us to launch this little project.

This poem was written in 2005 when we were hearing and often witnessing the carnage in Baghdad and all over Iraq. Our convoys were being bombed, markets were leveled, Shia and Sunni turned on each other, and the treasures of antiquity were being stolen or destroyed. The political logic of the war seemed confounded by incompetence, misinformation, and the rank failure of our leadership. It occurred to me that young, non-combatant, peaceful Iraqis must be overwhelmed by events in their country. How would I feel if that happened to us? I put myself in the young Iraqi’s shoes to describe my feelings as an embattled bystander.

I am a retired physician, resident in Door County for the past four years, after living 35 years in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Poetry is a suitable vehicle to express oneself where the message allows logic, intuition and emotion to be bedfellows.

My Grandma’s Garden

Arise, the rooster’s cry
rides shafts from the quiver
of the morning sun.
I stir in a broken city –
in the distance Baghdad’s Green
Mosque has bullet holes
and a shattered minaret.
Its dome glistens in the sun,
its crescent bent.
The bazaars are ravaged,
flattened, unsafe and bare.
next door my grandma’s garden
is crushed with shattered
bricks and glass.
I hear sirens wailing
as staccato gunfire
replace rush-hour sounds.

The Euphrates, like the city,
is muddy, bare, a
shadow of her muscular past.
Three thousand years ago
in this ancient Eden,
Baghdad sparkled
like a princess.
Through the years of
Silk Road trade it was
magnate to the best.
It wilted with the Silk Road
and rose again with Islam.
Her califate’s golden age
rescued Christendom’s treasures.
Greek and Roman
Persian and Indian,
pushed science to its limits,
and reveled in Rumi’s verse.

Now the city is laid low
like my grandma’s garden.
I see her holding my
little sisters, shedding tears,
wishing her flowers back to life.