for Michael J. Dugan, GEN, USAF, ret’d.:
“The cutting edge will be over downtown Baghdad.”
When I was nine or ten and
sleepy at the end of a school day
or bored in math or science,
my girlfriend and I would mount
our noble steeds, brave and
beautiful, daughters of the wind
mild as milk, and ride to Baghdad.
City of the `Abbāsid caliphs,
city richest of all under the sun,
Damascus swords, Indian jewels and spices,
African gold and ivory, horses and slaves
from nearly every land under the sun,
and from those lands, too, virtually all
the things of the mind to be bought
neither in the bazaar nor with gold,
city richest, oh yes, as few have been
since Periclean Athens.
As it happens, I have never been to Baghdad;
it is Saddam’s modern city of steel and glass now.
Little of the golden glory of the
city of Hārūn ar-Rashīd remains;
it is a republic of fear now.
The thousand and one nights were stories
for children while I was still a child.
I dare say, I shall never go.
I do not want to be disappointed.
What could live up to the dreams
of a Cretan blue tiled pool
set in a garden of roses and jasmine
behind walls of plain brick,
my friend of the long-lashed liquid
black eyes and long, brown limbs,
cool, strong and ringing with gold,
wrestling me to a tender fall and
rising from our bed with me to pray
at the muezzin’s call in the cool dawn?
No one told me of the black-veiled
women, of the men who killed their
women kin for giving their bodies
to whom they themselves pleased,
but in a thousand years, Saddam’s trash
will be in ruins, and ugly still.
Collateral damage is a neat
and bloodless term for homes and
lives bombed flat or incinerated
by white phosphorus and napalm;
the child running burning down the road;
the cathedral a century in building leveled;
the entire city turned into a three days’
firestorm by a single raid;
indiscriminate of combatants and
noncombatants, trash and treasure alike,
more or less accidental.
And the one thing you learn is that
even surgical strikes always cause
Oh, Baghdad, once a Persian village,
you survived Arab conquest and the near
destruction of your ancient citadel
by Hārun’s two sons in their civil war
only to be conquered again by the Būyids
and then the Seljuq Turks.
You endured the sack of Hülegü the Mongol
and Tamerlane’s Mongol troops.
Retook by your own Persians, you
served as an Ottoman capital,
endured the English mandate and a coup
that overthrew the Hashemite monarchy –
Oh, Baghdad, survivor of the ages,
how that small child’s corner of my heart
breaks at the thought of you reduced to
rubble by an afternoon of B-52 raids,
the same B-52s that failed to shorten the war
and end the killing in Vietnam:
if it were mine to do and I thought it’d work,
I’d authorize the strikes myself.
Wide-wayed Troy held ten years while
the heroes fought before its walls,
until earthshaking Poseidon, moved by
the Achaian sacrifice of the carefully
crafted wooden horse, threw
them down with one angry stamp and
sacred Ilion was given up to the sack.
Lest they lead an expedition
against the Achaians, hard pressed
by the Dorian invasion at home,
the royal women were enslaved
and little Astyanax, son of
shining helmed Hector and
Andromache of the white arms,
was thrown from the walls.
When even the gods bow to necessity,
the Achaians were ashamed of their actions
and buried Astyanax in Hector’s shield,
most prized of all their victory spoils.
The Dorians conquered horse-pasturing Argos,
strong founded Pylos, golden Mykenai
– all Hellas fell
and the well-greaved Achaians were enslaved
without benefit of a Trojan alliance.
21 September 1990