Speak and Doublespeak

by Jennie Orvino

Dark hollow indeed, as the leaves
turn and fall. In my native country
we take on the hood of terror
by using words to terrify:
sand nigger -- a term I never knew
until today. I hear a sharp report, there's
blood in the Sikh's beard, and his turban
is dank with red; I witness the silken
hijab ripped from a schoolgirl's head.

Clichéd warnings to the world
have power to kill without a shot:
either with us or against us
and so begins the exodus.
People of droughted Afghan tribes
crowd at their borders,
drop in a stupor, hands out
to their neighbors for crusts.

No more donkey caravans
in their cold plod after the slow trucks
of the World Food Program. All shipments
stopped by American and British planes
as gold-foil packets of protein crackers
drop from the sky onto land mined
ground -- humanitarian bombing from above
and below. Four men survived their work
of clearing these killing fields, only to be
shredded by missiles while they slept.

The hearts of collateral damage
used to beat. Their eyes knew the same
full moon, they wept for the same charred
innocents as the rescue workers in U.S. cities.
Unable to be independently verified
these dead uncles, aunts and cousins from
the village are still dead; their bodies seen
on Al-Jazeera satellite, not yet
on my TV.

Some words are allowed
to run rampant, others go to jail
without charge or bail.
Bankrupt language, how can I
make it solvent? Unlike
our enemies, we value
human life,
says our President
as the mosque explodes in Kandahar.
Homeland is reminiscent of
apartheid; security now means
men with guns. The ghost hamlets
of Vietnam are alive again with warning:
Do not lose your civil liberties
in order to save them.

So here I am at home,
warm, fed, can go to my cupboard
at the least stomach pang;
I'm starving I say, too easily.
The activists of Voices in the
Wilderness have fasted 40 days
to know the empty belly of Iraq,
its dry taste of strafed, polluted
sand. Hungry to death?
I can't imagine it. A day
without a meal and I can't think.
Would chronic hunger skew
my sense of justice?

School children in Iowa might send
their dollars to the White House,
but no food moves with bombers
in the air. The Red Cross fails
to make dinner for five million

as the mothers of Afghanistan
and Pakistan
await the dark winter.

©2001 by Jennie Orvino

Jennie Orvino's work can be seen at her Web site, at Clean Sheets Magazine, and in various anthologies published in northern California. In 2002, Jennie will release her spoken word CD "If I Could Be the Calyx," a collaboration with musicians on poems of love and war.

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