ETERNAL WAR REQUIEM
 
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I. Requiem aeternam

Anyone There


I have come to talk about Syria and all that has occurred

Syria is torn as whether to cry for us or the land 

I swear I don’t know what to say and what to choose

The screams of the martyr’s mother or the sounds of destruction

Aleppo was paradise yet now it’s all destroyed 

Children died of hunger and the reason is the siege 

In brief, this is what happened

Syria nestled all religions 

Now it fights in the name of Islam

Good heavens, hearts turned into stone

Syria is calling, injustice has propagated

Injustice prevails and kills people*


I already feel like I’ve lost my place

My hometown has gone without a trace

Looking for something I can’t replace

Hoping I can find a better place


I can’t see my family at home

But I can still see them on my phone

It doesn’t really stop me from feeling alone

I’m carrying this sadness in my bones


The memories I have will never go away

When I go to sleep they start to replay

I’m never going back I’m here to stay

Gotta keep going to find another way


I’m starting to feel like people don’t care

I’ve got a story to tell, it’s my turn to share

I offer this dream, this hope my prayer

I’m shouting this out, is there anyone there


By Ahmed and Hussein, with contributions from Jowan, Ali and Mohammad; supported by GemArts music leaders Izzy Finch and Pawel Jedrzejewski

* First stanza translated from Arabic

Anthem for Doomed Youth


What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.


What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
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II. Dies irae


Permanent Stars


I long to return and smell your scent again, Damascus

I long to return and remember those days

Days that will not return, not even in dreams

The people in exile got tired of illusions


We lived our childhood in exile, sorrow and illusions

Because of injustice, our eyes can’t sleep anymore

Exile oh, people, made us taste poison


I long to return to my homeland,

To hear a knock on my door, open and find my friend

To go together to my school, to enter my classroom, 

to find my teacher.

To play in the schoolyard after my classes are over

How I miss my friends from school.


I’m tired, yes I am tired of exile

Everyone is far away, heartbroken, no one is by my side


My tears flow each time I put my head on the pillow

Lost in this world and I don’t know what to do

Oh, world, lighten my heart a little

Many people I’ve seen cry, 

their loved ones who drowned in the sea

Syria you are a paradise, and a paradise you shall remain

Oh, world, please, 

Have some compassion with the Syrian people


[Chorus]

I remember the time I spent with my friends

It was the most beautiful days of my life

In exile, I’ve lost my days and my happiness

I lost most of my loved ones

They were my friends 


So many people lost their loved ones in the sea

So many people are tired of the cruelness of destiny

The sight of you oh, my country, breaks one’s back

How my heart breaks oh, Damascus, 

whenever I remember the smell of roses

I open my phone for your memories oh, Damascus, 

I am still searching


Home oh, my dear home, do you still remember me? 

Or has destruction concealed you

Those days when I spent the evenings with my neighbor

Now there is no neighbor or home that remains

The destruction took them, 

and the siege has exhausted them

My eyes cry from this scene that became war, 

ruins and destruction

The day will come, God willing, 

and we will return to you oh, homeland


I have lost eight years of my life

I went into exile by force, not by choice

Am waiting for death to come and end my life

I keep holding the shroud, waiting for exile to kill me


The death boats have made it to the dreamland

They thought that exile would be nice, 

but it was only pain and anguish


Those who fled only know beauty in their dreams

Some people made it, and others didn’t experience peace


[Chorus]

I remember the time I spent with my friends

It was the most beautiful days of my life

In exile, I’ve lost my days and my happiness

I lost most of my loved ones

They were my friends


I remember the time I spent with my friends

It was the most beautiful days of my life

In exile, I’ve lost my days and my happiness

I lost most of my loved ones

They were my friends


I remember the time I spent with my friends

It was the most beautiful days of my life

In exile, I’ve lost my days and my happiness

I lost most of my loved ones

They were my friends


By Ahmed and Hussein, with contributions from Jowan, Ali and Mohammad; supported by GemArts music leaders Izzy Finch and Pawel Jedrzejewski

But I Was Looking at the Permanent Stars


Bugles sang, saddening the evening air,

And bugles answered, sorrowful to hear.


Voices of boys were by the river-side.

Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.

The shadow of the morrow weighed on men.


Voices of old despondency resigned,

Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.


( ) dying tone

Of receding voices that will not return.

The wailing of the high far-travelling shells

And the deep cursing of the provoking ( )


The monstrous anger of our taciturn guns.

The majesty of the insults of their mouths.


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
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II. Dies irae

Forever War

War’s a joke for me and you,

While we know such dreams are true.

“Farmers, sent to kill farmers …”*


Out there, 

In blinding light, or in black and white

We’ve walked quite friendly up to Death,—

Knocking teeth, ivory grinding, ghost of choking silent tones

Sat down and eaten 

Him

with him, 

Yes, it is always a Him.


Cool and bland,—

Clicking lips, dried and cracked, gnashing mush

Splattering cough, choking 

Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.

Funny stories, body parts, coughing laughter, spewing mush.


We’ve sniffed the green thick odour 

Night vision targets

Of his breath,—

“All the way to splash” 


Our eyes wept, but our courage didn’t writhe.

No courage needed,

Numb, drained yet alive

Hanging from a bridge, swaying, 

his finger, your tongue

We died.


He’s spat at us with bullets and he’s coughed

Floating up from deserts and down from oceans

We died with nothing, 

He, America, said we were nothing, but

Shrapnel. 


… We chorussed when he sang aloft,

We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Spun us around in barber chairs.

With nothing, we had much to take.


Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!

Complacency and complicity,

Oh, conniving myths.

Yes, you.

And this undead purgatory, 

Lives unvalued

Collateral damage

And pains seen ten times,

And never felt


We laughed at him, we leagued with him, 

Remember, over wine and beer, laughter

The toy box cut right through him

Bright red like matchbox cars

Or was it gray?

old chum.


No soldier’s paid to kick against His powers.

Paid only to join him.

Join him joyfully with such little pay.


We laughed, —knowing that better men would come,

And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags

He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

So we farmers kill farmers


By Aaron Hughes

* From the song “Soldier’s Heart” by Jacob David George

The Next War

“War’s a joke for me and you,

While we know such dreams are true.”

—Siegfried Sassoon


Out there, we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death,—

Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,—

Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.

We’ve sniffed the green thick odour of his breath,—

Our eyes wept, but our courage didn’t writhe.

He’s spat at us with bullets and he’s coughed

Shrapnel. We chorussed when he sang aloft,

We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.


Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!

We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.

No soldier’s paid to kick against His powers.

We laughed, —knowing that better men would come,

And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags

He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
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II. Dies irae

Sonnet On Knowing Our Drones Hit Targets 

Wrongly Identified

Be slowly brought down, my smooth gray wasp,

High tech scouring the heavens, about to strike;

Great skill against them, as for months we train—

Grave implications for all future wars.

Teach them that precision which spares no evil,

We’ll break them down before their sins spread far.

Take them one by one, Hell Fire—set! destroy

Lay flame to distant silhouettes, our kills so clean.


But for all those men we aim to exorcise

My soul does not escape this knowledge:

I am withdrawn, my son, the spoilure done,

Behind the safety of my screen

For I have seen the stats complete and true,

And I know, dear God, we have struck a school.


By Kevin Basl 

Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of Our Artillery 

Brought Into Action

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,

Great gun towering towards Heaven, about to curse;

Sway steep against them, and for years rehearse

Huge imprecations like a blasting charm!

Reach at that Arrogance which needs thy harm,

And beat it down before its sins grow worse;

Spend our resentment, cannon,—yea, disburse

Our gold in shapes of flame, our breaths in storm.

Yet, for men’s sakes whom thy vast malison

Must wither innocent of enmity,

Be not withdrawn, dark arm, thy spoilure done,

Safe to the bosom of our prosperity.

But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,

May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
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II. Dies irae

Futility

Move him into the sun— 

Bloated, rotting, yellow-purple hues

Face down, brown liquid dripping,

The body I never saw.

But his eyes—

I swear I was there

With you under that sun.

Gently its touch awoke him once, 

From death

The body excretes.

Together we tasted the flies and maggots,

Mixed with dust stuck to our teeth.

At home, whispering of fields [unsown]. 

Covered in snow,

Grey winds numbing battered cheeks,

Chilling your fingers and toes.

Her thoughts no longer sweet, 

Just cold.

—O what is that dying tone?

Always it woke him, … 

The touch of Grandmother’s cold hand,

In silk pine steel box.

You remember, 

It was too cold to sleep.

You remember,

The blood rolling over dirt earth highway.

You remember, you could not take it with you,

Hands clasped with rigamortis 

Brilliant sun dries red-black puddles

Until this morning and this snow. 

Like the dust

Of everything,

Your purple toes crack,

Black fingers break,

As the ice melts and the 

Cities and shores burn.

If anything might rouse him now 

This Holy Ground for miles and miles.

His holy ground,

Your family ground,

Horizon broken with craters,

And unsown seeds.


The kind old sun will know. 

You may want to let go

Now that we are holes

Burnt through you too

You and I go together 


Think how it wakes the seeds— 

But how you do not wake,

I do not wake

—O silent tone


Woke once the clays of a cold star.

Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides 

Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir? 

Was it for this the clay grew tall? 

—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil 

To break earth’s sleep at all?


By Aaron Hughes

Futility

Move him into the sun— 

Gently its touch awoke him once, 

At home, whispering of fields half-sown. 

Always it woke him, even in France, 

Until this morning and this snow. 

If anything might rouse him now 

The kind old sun will know. 


Think how it wakes the seeds— 

Woke once the clays of a cold star.

Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides 

Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir? 

Was it for this the clay grew tall? 

—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil 

To break earth’s sleep at all?


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
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III. Offertorium

Mote


Squeeze my heart, break my gaze, caress Her arms

not with hypoxic hands, you are a mote of dust.

Forty kills, one hundred oscillations of the spirit,

the crown a passport, each stamp a cinder block.


A hypoxic mote of dust you call my hand.

War talks about fortitude, says squeeze

each cinder block to crack Her crown.

Transmute the factory in service of killing!


In the parable, Abraham squeezes fortitude 

into talk. Isaac, you are a mote of dust 

in a barrel of rye. Father says kill!

Says destroy the mountain! 

O Saada!

O Mosul! 

This day, like our wars, is long. 

Behold everywhere the dead and living vacillate.  

Squeeze my heart, break my gaze, caress Her arms.


By Carlos Sirah

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

and builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.


But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
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IV. Sanctus


Plastic Death


In my childhood

in Baghdad

we played dead:

we killed each other

with plastic weapons.

We lay on the floor,

still as corpses

for a minute

or two.

Then one of us laughed,

exposing our plastic death;

we held each other

as the dying might

life itself, but rose

to play another game.

The years turn over 

and Baghdad recedes

with our childhoods

into exile.

From afar, we see children

who look like we did.

They kill each other,

lie motionless 

on the floor.

But none of them laugh

or hold life

and rise.


By Dunya Mikhail 

“Plastic Death” by Dunya Mikhail, from IN HER FEMININE SIGN, copyright 2019 by Dunya Mikhail. Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.


The War Works Hard


How magnificent the war is!

How eager

and efficient!

Early in the morning

it wakes up the sirens

and dispatches ambulances

to various places

swings corpses through the air

rolls stretchers to the wounded

summons rain

from the eyes of mothers

digs into the earth

dislodging many things

from under the ruins...

Some are lifeless and glistening

others are pale and still throbbing...

It produces the most questions

in the minds of children

entertains the gods

by shooting fireworks and missiles

into the sky

sows mines in the fields

and reaps punctures and blisters

urges families to emigrate

stands beside the clergymen

as they curse the devil

(poor devil, he remains

with one hand in the searing fire)...

The war continues working, day and night.

It inspires tyrants

to deliver long speeches

awards medals to generals

and themes to poets

it contributes to the industry

of artificial limbs

provides food for flies

adds pages to the history books

achieves equality

between killer and killed

teaches lovers to write letters

accustoms young women to waiting

fills the newspapers

with articles and pictures

builds new houses

for the orphans

invigorates the coffin makers

gives grave diggers

a pat on the back

and paints a smile on the leader’s face.

It works with unparalleled diligence!

Yet no one gives it

a word of praise.


By Dunya Mikhail 

“The War Works Hard’’ by Dunya Mikhail, translated from Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow, from THE WAR WORKS HARD, copyright 2005 by Dunya Mikhail. Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.



The End


After the blast of lightning from the east,

The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot Throne;

After the drums of time have rolled and ceased,

And by the bronze west long retreat is blown,

Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth

All death will he annul, all tears assuage?—

Or fill these void veins full again with youth,

And wash, with an immortal water, Age?

When I do ask white Age he saith not so:

‘My head hangs weighed with snow.’

And when I hearken to the Earth, she saith:

‘My fiery heart shrinks, aching. It is death.

Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified,

Nor my titanic tears, the seas, be dried.’


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
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V. Agnus Dei


Tell Laila there is no cereal

left in the city. The days

of storage are over. 


Men trap inside the silo

our food.

Men trap inside the mind

our days.

Men trap inside the cement

our bone.

So, we march from the city 

into Night.


If there is cereal in the city, 

the days of storage are near

to end. Tell Laila, go with God.


When it rains in the city, and

it will rain, the days of storage 

may return. In the next season, 

we dream of home. 


If there is no cereal in the city, 

and the days of storage are only 

memory, ask Laila to tell you

everything.


By Carlos Sirah


At a Calvary Near the Ancre

One ever hangs where shelled roads part. 

In this war He too lost a limb, 

But His disciples hide apart; 

And now the Soldiers bear with Him. 


Near Golgotha strolls many a priest, 

And in their faces there is pride 

That they were flesh-marked by the Beast 

By whom the gentle Christ’s denied. 


The scribes on all the people shove 

And bawl allegiance to the state, 

But they who love the greater love 

Lay down their life; they do not hate. 


By Wilfred Owen

 
 
 
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VI. Libera me


Meeting Muhammad

I slip into the mineshaft of my memory

when I seek a poem to shape my voice,

search for faces, objects afloat in the dust,

struggle to name them.

In there, down a passage neglected, I am struck to find

the Iraqi boy

filling sandbags in flip flops, still

wading through smog and curses

shoveling away for dirt pay

all to protect        our United States encampment.

His spirit is what I recall:

laughter-in-defiance, heavy metal t-shirt.

Yes, I am happy to find him,

however saddened to feel

the grit of my uniform

the heft of my rifle

observing him like a guard again,

sounding out the name of this person I meet again:

Ahmed        or, Abadi?

Or Muhammad?

a name that breathes alliteration,

three syllables so fraught yet polished

Muhammad, refugee among a million?

Muhammad        lost?

He sinks his spade into sands long-subsumed,

no answer to offer no words to speak.

Yet a poem is forming,

an exit from the opacity        (a past-me).

We shall walk the cold star, the logic of dreams,

suns-like-dust in the dome of the universe

ask Muhammad (as you prod a soldier for a story long buried):

What might you teach? What might we share?

His sidelong stare—no comfort for certain

and I suspect what the boy may think:        just stop

for ruins sprout up from the prophetic lands,

thousand-year-old structures balanced on a whim

Mosque of Mosul, towers shattered—

archeology of mourning in a world of needs

and there beyond the wreckage

an icy-black sea spans the horizon.


We proceed to find the rowboat in waiting, exactly as envisioned,

Muhammad’s kind gesture to step aboard

but my feet are anchors

and I cannot (will not yet) go.


Here, what is one to say?

Greet you in Lesvos? Send money for the cause?


No solace. He dips a hand into my pocket,

provides what I have sought.

His oars stir the glassy waters

as I stand ashore and read his poem,

repeat the sorrow of our exchange



By Kevin Basl


Strange Meeting


It seemed that out of battle I escaped 

Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped 

Through granites which titanic wars had groined. 

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned, 

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred. 

Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared 

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes, 

Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless. 

And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,— 

By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. 

With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained; 

Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground, 

And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan. 

“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.” 

“None,” said that other, “save the undone years, 

The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours, 

Was my life also; I went hunting wild 

After the wildest beauty in the world, 

Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair, 

But mocks the steady running of the hour, 

And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here. 

For by my glee might many men have laughed, 

And of my weeping something had been left, 

Which must die now. I mean the truth untold, 

The pity of war, the pity war distilled. 

Now men will go content with what we spoiled. 

Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled. 

They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress. 

None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress. 

Courage was mine, and I had mystery; 

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery: 

To miss the march of this retreating world 

Into vain citadels that are not walled. 

Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels, 

I would go up and wash them from sweet wells, 

Even with truths that lie too deep for taint. 

I would have poured my spirit without stint 

But not through wounds; not on the cess of war. 

Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were. 

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend. 

I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned 

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed. 

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold. 

Let us sleep now. . . .”


By Wilfred Owen