for Jeremy Hilton, Christina Lamb, and Anne Jorgensen
Day One 20.3.03. Surfacing from memory, vague as waking from a dream when it's already fading - 'the sense of intolerable wrong' They've gone in, you said some time while we were sleeping. Same county, even. All morning, the grief thickens on another Spring day as bright as heaven. Blue England, IN FOR THE KILL. Eco-buildings in the balmy air, fragile, new computers launching B52s - I need to hear your voice. At the corner shop up the hill I can only buy red candles. And in your kindness, you bring daffodils their buds still sheathed like bullets. Numb eyes, tight mouths, driving, walking and you say it: it's as if something is wrong in the deepest part of you, gesturing down. Their khaki figures spectral in the sand-mist Death's dream and everywhere Become the same desert. One world.
Day Two 21.3.03. It plummets from the air in the downturn of his Radio 4 news voice a helicopter falling out of the sky - six Royal Marines, all of them dead, and one of them, nephew, could be you. Any one of them is you to each family kept waiting who do not yet know and will not be told until they choose to do so. 'These things happen in war', he states and whatever else he goes on to say by way of politeness, or platitude - the fact is you know nothing. And in this sand-haze everyone is an unknown soldier until he's recognized, one way or another, and the whale of war that swallowed him disgorges him again. Outside, the pile driver on site goes on rhythmically pounding at the ground, as its echo becomes the day... and the night.
Day Three 22.3.03. Great balls of fire...as if the sun has descended lighting up the night in one orange flaming effulgent explosion after another - The Shock and Awe opera has begun, and still the white streetlights stay on and still the poor and innocent cannot leave the city. Waves of attacks that included US air force F15 Strike Eagle Artillery including the 32 AS90 155mm self-propelled guns of the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery... bombarded with all the details as if this techno-rhetoric can sanction it. And the one true thing: a lone Bedouin woman fearlessly confronting an entire tank regiment spitting and cursing, her sheep scattered everywhere... Dame Ragnel no one is listening to. These knights who have no Holy Grail only a dictator's swollen head and a people's dubious freedom. And the more you read the more overwhelming it is. Shocked but not awed, oh yes, and at this priveleged distance with a free-floating eye that refuses to be blinded for as long as it can see. We sit in the sunlit garden, shredding the past old records of pain at our feet - as a questioned plane climbing overhead reflected in the light, so nearly becoming the blue of the sky, as it turns, translucent... And if one 4 year old innocent lies wrapped in blood-stained bandages being hand fed American potato crisps not expected to survive - Is it worth it? Can it be? Oil in trenches belching flame, smudging the sky for some cover as another night approaches. The desert waiting for more funereal debris, and no one speaking of the waste. No one speaking the unspeakable waste.
Day Four 23.3.03. So when it happens for the third time in three days, that is, three consecutive days as if the first could be excused, the second wondered atand then ? When an English plane is shot down by an American missile, returning you have to ask yourself (don't you ?) what a higher power may be writing in the invisible ink of the sky... No hiding it. Beside all the talk of precision, the reality of what it also is: a bloody mess Messy as two English soldiers with palpable grief on their faces looking down a hole at two crumpled Iraqi jackets and a makeshift white flag raised on a stick - Too late. Too late. And while all roads lead to Baghdad it's too late now, whatever happens (whatever unspeakable poison is being stirred to leap from that hornet's nest of rage - ) there can be no turning back.
Day Five 24.3.03. And what do you do with a man who lives like a Chinese Emperor torturing his own, in the tightening circles of his own mazy paranoia? Who builds a mosque where the minarets are turrets of upturned missiles ? Who sanctions unimagineable sadism to safeguard his own megolomania - How do you wage peace against him? He has to go - he will not go and there are plenty more like him in the family. Even O.B.L has his number A secular infidel (which is putting it nicely) And under the bottom line, another line that nobody wants to talk about we know he has weapons of mass destruction because we sold them to him in the first place. Which is how a war can be just and just a massive irony, all at once.
Day Six 25.3.03. MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES the headline reads as if any mother would sanction this the mother in the desert who doesn't exist And if you're looking for Kali with her dancing necklace of skulls you'll find her near enough among all these broken remains And yet there is a mother behind this machine - a No Mother. A mother like rage slapping every little soldier's face a mother like ice, refusing his cries And there's a mother in a man's heart too Assad from Bristol (in Britain since 1979) knows her as his heart reached his stomach when the coalition army went in Now his voice choking back the tears as she asks him - the soil defiled, he says the Mother of a Nation.
Day Seven 26.3.03. The Seven Days of Uncreation. And on the Seventh Day God did not say let another unidentified cruise missile fall upon the ordinary people of Baghdad out shopping for their groceries - turning one woman and her child in a car into heat-blackened blasted pulp. The commentator tries to put it nicely It was as if she had evaporated. And it's true where beauty is on the line everything that is loving and human can pass away as easily unless we choose it. Meanwhile, the cover-all rhetoric goes on. In Basra, although nothing is clear we believe the people are about to rebel unfortunately, we're shelling the hell out of them. In Baghdad, the sand cakes everything the prayed-for storm... Rapturous applause for the President his confidence like lip gloss concealing every trace of anxiety. And when the food aid finally arrives and Lady Bountiful prepares her speech they drag it out of the back of the van scrapping over it like dogs.
Day Eight 27.3.03. It looks like Apocalypse Now, he says at the appalling bloodshed on the road of the Republican Guard leaving Basra - unimagineable imagineable carnage in the sand but like a movie (you note), as if only a movie could contain it a television screen frame it and it's not containable - it can only be veiled, and those that passed this way will never pass again. Were all their lives waiting for this, to be blasted into faceless smithereens? Their souls whipped to the wind into the vast sightless borderland where they might linger for as long without an answer...
Day Nine 28.3.03. after seeing The Hours What they won't admit at their luxurious podiums flanked by the stars and stripes while people scramble out of the market place terrified, dazed, their lives changed forever and retaliation arcs its way towards Kuwait City - What they won't admit is there's no end to it and that all we have is no further away than now and never in some imaginary future you lying in my arms in our after-dream of loving... and a woman wading into a river her coat pockets weighted with stones.
Day Ten 29.3.03. I look in the mirror and what do I see? The Daily Horror staring at me The only mirror I can read and your face And what it still means to live for beauty that does not lie in the name of fantasy through what is left of its teeth... Our son did not die an unspeakable death beside a dirt road stripped of his uniform - he was slain in active service fighting for democracy and the Iraqi people like the Army commander told us. He was a hero she blocks her ears. He was a hero she screams in tears.
Day Eleven 30.3.03. The Mother of All Poisons and behind it all, imagine a beautiful woman part veiled in khaki - hair permed, eyebrows plucked the wide bow of her mouth rolled with discreet lipstick 19,000 litres of botulimum toxin 8,500 litres of anthrax against the infidel for which she is duly feted and promoted. What is it in a woman's flow that can turn to such aniseed destruction? Anything for a father's love, her own heart even?
Day Twelve 31.3.03. One life for four does that mean four times as good ? His suicidal detonating car and all to please Papa who he thinks is Allah Papa is pleased, too secure in his palatial bunker preaching the gospel he will never live while this poor fool is given two posthumous medals that he cannot see and will never wear. If we could erase the name of Saddam Hussein, we should and only remember those who gave their lives for what they believed however stupid it was - no more so than ours befriended by farcical fire delivered back home with all due ceremony like pieces of a piano wrapped in union jacks.
Day Thirteen 1.4.03. What matters more that we talk about the war or slip into peace in the sunlit garden? Lying back on the grass, as we drift together our ears filled with birdsong, despite the cars waking to one robin, fearless as bright, with a song the size of the whole tree around him! Then going up inside turning your flat around dragging pieces from room to room into a progressed nest - It's like leading parallel lives. Easy you might say, with it happening there without this clear blue sky shattered by explosions You could say that, but if it's true that we can only live what we do seeding the matrix with possibility, then the more we live what we feel the closer we are to peace and haven't you notice we all seem to be needing to? Meanwhile the battle for Basra continues, and the one Iraqi soldier who knew his own mind spent three days in a chicken coop waiting to surrender.
Day Fourteen 2.4.03. My April Fool declares this day does not exist, except for random acts of kindness and beauty - So tell me the news no, tell me about one fine thing you saw in the midst of hell The butterfly on the battlefield that shimmered in the light, that no bullet could pass through becoming the sky - your voice saying All Shall Be Well. And shakes his cap and bells. And shakes his cap and bells.
Day Fifteen 3.4.03. The most poignant thing of all to reach the centre and find there is no enemy left It was all in the mind. Waves of heat, melting... It was all a game of make-believe out of one man's ego 'Why did we have to kill so many people?' the Sergeant asks, dazed, sighing One thousand, for one who refused to surrender and still more to come What is real the stream of broken humanity in cars, buses, taxis, anything they can get a ride on, in the hospitals of every stricken city and town What is real when the surgery is done and the patient is lying helpless on the ground -
Day Sixteen 4.4.03. Allah do not let us down! the imam cries his teeth bared in pain - and then his prayer an Old Testament curse to Allah or Yahweh what does it matter? It's only Nobodaddy not listening. And the God of the English and the Americans? And the God beyond all of this we can only reach when who we think He is fails to hear our prayers fails to acceed to our retrograde schemes. Meanwhile the sky is falling on the imam's head the sky of his mind, of all he has lived by, when Allah falls silent. Pity him - and be glad that when his heart breaks he may know his God like a phoenix out of the ashes.
Day Seventeen 5.4.03. Men like Hitler can't change. They have to be bumped out of existence Sri Aurobindo We are all still well and happy smiles the actor playing Saddam (who is Saddam) in the blurred video footage as they sit round a makeshift table Even the airport still belongs to us, those American soldiers are just visiting. Machine gun fire in the infragreen light the death toll ticking by like digits on a supply meter the wheel unstoppably turning, until the mains switch is shut. What does it take? A tank with a lasso of thick rope, in reverse, dragging the black metal statue, crashing off its concrete plinth face down into the dust! (If it was only that much).
Day Eighteen 6.4.03. after John Simpson He saw it falling seconds before impact - a white cone with a red nose (no clown, this missile) a dozen people died with a click of its exploding fingers, and the Kurdish translator beside him kicked with shrapnel in the legs bleeds to death in minutes - his blood sand from his hourglass, all spent... Meanwhile, his report is impeccable powered by residual adrenalin his strength of syntax intact; and here is a man who has nearly died and who can see this hourglass is all we have this day, hour, moment this is the pearl of our lives. Perhaps it is our immortality we also need to be saved from until we have learnt how to live.
Day Nineteen 7.4.03. Peasants in khaki lolling about on Louis XIV furniture smoking weed only the decor is all fake and these roundheads have no regrets... Here is a man who had gold wherever he wanted and nothing inside him like his palaces, all empty now. This one, probably never even used 'only occupied by a flock of doves'. Sweet irony. And this is the fate of the gold of this world, it is always overcome. Ask any alchemist: all you can take is its reflected light inside you. But ask Midas, and he's nowhere to be found. Ask the Sun King, and his sun has long gone down with all the other despots who merely try to be monarchs of this world. The only thing this one never had was all he lacked: a crown. (No heaven above his head.) Now the soldiers are hounds, and he is metamorphosed into a stag, a fox, a lightning-blasted tree.
Day Twenty 8.4.03. 'There's gold in there let us in, let us in!' they are shouting. When the lid comes off behold a people who have had nothing, who have been starving. Now anything is wealth: An old man wheeling his bicycle with a heavy door strapped to it two boys with a wardrobe on wheels a lorry crammed with warehouse food finally flagged down... They call it anarchy and if you look closely, you may see that peace can only come in a community of freedom And that to be surrounded by the stuff of dreams and not have any taste of it may be the subtlest torture of all - the envy of our thrall.
Day Twenty One 9.4.03. Rise like lions after slumber... Shelley We filled the peace bridge spanning the road like a rainbow on that first evening - now there's only a handful remaining with the end of day traffic passing beneath. They are dancing in the street. And as a shiver passes through the watching world, they hoist a ladder to the statue, noose the neck, Marines and Iraqis together - as the roar goes up and...the rest is history. Can what is created by force only be brought down by it? The sledgehammered monster is silent. The crammed mortuary like a metal box oozing blood, is silent. And the people on a pedestrian bridge in a small English country town gaze down wondering War and peace - peace and war, the polarity like a metronome snaking in its trance of duality until we get to the love beyond either.
coda 13.4.03 for Ali Ismael Abbas In the eyes, no recrimination only the even gaze of a question no one can begin to answer... outsized, like brown beryls, looking up the lips full, beautiful as he is, his lustrous black hair recently cut resting on a favoured pillow, with its flaming tulip beside his right ear - his sister's ringed hand poised, withdrawn from smoothing his brow ...the bandaged stumps of his arms, blown off he wakes to, at every other moment as the nightmare of pain continues, their perfect use still inches from him his blistered chest like a terrible painting coated in layers of cream... the squalid children's ward like a manger all around him - No room at the inn for Love. 'It would be better if poor Ali died' says his doctor but he lives to gaze at us across the miles, across time where the soul knows no distance - stretched on the helpless cross of his bed with Mary behind him weeping still asking us why?
Day 365 Easter 2004 Liberator become oppressor: two sides of an emotional coin as slippery as grease in the palm. A people pulled apart in all directions. A wound constantly re-opened before it can heal over: crucifixion without end. Counting the days, till when? And as many suicide bombers awaiting a rude awakening in Paradise. 'We must not abandon this historic struggle' proudly declares our Prime Minister (wishing he was Churchill - ) and in the same breath, the next conscript strapping explosives to his empty chest. Let go of war? As inconceivable as the President abandoning the White House. And the reason remains dark it flows like blood under the ground blood that everyone needs but not human blood. It only drives machines. Hatred makes machines out of us all. One small step into the Kingdom when we see what we are fighting for. It means we must connect must talk, must listen and express must agree that ceasefire is the only key. It means we have to pause. The machine stops. It is switched off. The way is clear: we fight for oil under the guise of moraIity, or we bow to the Earth's command to live by a new integrity. Oil, or human blood. Hatred, fear and revenge - or love. One giant leap out of Hell.
For The Z-Man (Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi) 14.10.04 i.m. Kenneth Bigley No death is good enough for you in the farthest reaches of your hatred to play with another man's soul like a cat dangling a mouse (but without its animal necessity) is a crime that mirrors your punishment in its mediaeval monstrosity - You have no place in a world of love so you have cast yourself out to the edges where no human heart can reach you imagining your purity, deluded fool - And you shall die by the sword, no doubt but that isn't enough for vengeance or knowledge, you must finally wake up to what you've done then see yourself dismembered vanishing in front of your own eyes turned into the nothing you are each atom of your frozen imago crunched and scattered back into the fathomless, velvet blackness so it may never reform like this again.