‘A Touch of Libya’ or ‘A Bullet Snug Within Her Neck’
As the Houston Astrodome is filled with gunfire, the girl with the blonde ponytail sees her ﬁancé shot and bleeding beside her.
She sees the blood, she sees it spill
from one step to the next, the bits of brain
upon her blouse – and yet the thought which chills
her most, a deep, unsettling refrain,
is how deceptive life can be.
She begins to reflect on someone she’d seen earlier that day — a neighbor, a young man she’d gone to school with.
Meanwhile, a small plane has crashed into a bus in the parking lot outside the Astrodome (the plane, in fact, was shot down before it could hit the stadium). As we know from “The Suicide Attack”, the plane was towing a banner which read: “LISA DEAR I FEEL I’LL NEVER FIND ANOTHER PLEASE DON’T LEAVE!”
We also know, from the last episode, that a grenade (the ‘doll’) has been tossed into a huddling crowd (see “They’ll Kill Us All“) and will explode in a few seconds.
The girl with the blonde ponytail knows nothing of the plane crash or the grenade, but we can assume after reading the stanzas below that we know her name…
She has been fooled! He’d found it hard to talk
– not this one here, this stupid, stupored thing
(the bullet struck in mid-vituperation) –
but him, the one who gave that tacky ring
to her at junior high-school graduation.
Cursive ‘L’. And cheap, gold-plated…’ Thirty
dollars? Without the insect’s animation
leaves lay dead and twigs inert – he
couldn’t express himself; or did she not
know how to listen? Or . . . perhaps the hurt he
always seemed to show was like a spot
of camouﬂage, a ruse, a trick design
concealing something else, and what she thought
an owl’s eye – a brooding thing conﬁned
to night’s demonic gloom, a stalker made
to watch her all her life (he’d been assigned
the house next door; in fact, they used to trade
inspective glances walking to the school) –
was more a day’s disguise or masquerade.
And why this thought? Why now? Amidst this pool
of blood, the bullets chirping off the seats,
the soggy smell of rheum and diesel fuel
(the bus fumes seep indoors), this choking heat
– why now? The man she was to marry, dead.
Yet in her mind, another’s face? It greets
her on a bus, his eyes two balls of lead
and ﬂattened cheeks all pocked like timeworn stone
upon an unknown grave. That day she’d said
to him: ‘Seattle . . . yes . . . no, not alone . . .
with Chris, my ﬁancé. He’s studying law.
So how’re your parents? Funny – feels I’ve grown
so far away from Kingwood High. I saw
Miss Hosenkrantz the other day – oh you
weren’t in her class? Yes, you had Mr. Straw,
that’s right . . . No – no idea what I will do
out there! . . . Seattle’s not so far, I mean,
it’s not like you – you came to Riverview
Estates from Egypt . . . no? From Libya? You’ve seen
the world! Lucky you. Oh is that so?
At Northeast Med? . . . Me too . . . That’s right, nineteen
on April twenty-ﬁfth, how did you know? . . .
Well, even if you haven’t traveled much,
it’s like, your foreignness will never go.
I mean, not quite a foreignness as such.
I mean to say – I’m sorry, lately I
can’t think! – your parents gave you just a touch
of Libya . . . Did you ever learn to ﬂy?
When we were kids, ﬁfth-grade, or sixth, you swore
you’d be a pilot . . . Here’s my stop . . . Goodbye!’
O how depressing he was! So why – before
she dies (she knows she’s going to die quite soon,
and reader, she is right) – these thoughts? The more
she thinks of all she’s lost – the honeymoon
in France which she would dream of now and then! –
the more she thinks about that afternoon
she met her neighbor on the bus, and when
she’d gotten off, how much it struck her: although
they’d lived as neighbors since the age of ten,
and watched the same old postman come and go,
and heard the same old doves and warblers, served
the same refreshments at the same car show,
how different were their lives! As she’d observed
that day, how blessed she was compared to him!
And just this morning – Chris’s car had swerved
out from her driveway – there he was, as grim
as ever, watering the lawn, and she
rolled down the glass, tossed out a waving limb,
and joked how he would see her on TV!
But how absurd is life! A trick! A ruse!
That word misspelled at school – chicanery!
The ay-rab spook – her classmates often used
those names – will grimly live the happy years
which she, the lucky native peach, will lose!
And that – yes, that was truth. O God. She hears
a loud yet strangely muted thump, and reels
around, and wants to gasp, or moan, or clear
her throat, but she has ﬁnished life’s ordeal,
a bullet snug within her neck. And all
of this occurs – these thoughts, her muted squeals –
within the seconds just before the ‘doll’
explodes down on the ﬁeld, there below
the crowded, smoke-enshrouded stage.
I first came across this poem at Zireaux’s blog back in April and I’ve returned to it many times. I include here the poet’s impromptu exegesis as well, in reply to a comment I left on his blog.
My story of Kamal has been so little read or acknowledged beyond a very limited audience. Each time I publish the next episode, having not read the lines in many years, I’m often struck by their content — but especially these lines, this week, given the recent events in Boston.
That “Touch of Libya” could easily have been a “Touch of Chechnya” — as America seeks out the right sketch artist to draw its enemy’s face. And now everyone wonders about motive. Was the bomber inspired by some faraway fanaticism? A radical Australian cleric on YouTube? Some Mujahideen in some mountain hideaway? Heavenly virgins?
Or could the act of terror — to use the term generally — come less from politics and ideology and more from a cultural offense, a sense of personal hurt or failure or detachment, and is there really any difference between these potential triggers of extreme violence? (“Oh, he was actually born here,” Lisa suddenly realizes in the lines above; “He has the same right to pursue happiness that I have.”). Whatever the motive, America would benefit by revisiting its definition of terrorism — or scrapping it entirely.
The America of Kamal is insensitive to innocence; to the dignity of an interior self; to a young man who naively believes in the sanctity of romantic love. And that’s fine in a way. It enables a freedom that may seem ordinary in New Zealand and Australia and Western Europe, but which is really quite new and rare in this world, and therefore far more incendiary than many people realize. (But unquestionably worth protecting).
Meanwhile, if you are intrigued by all this, you can find the audio links of Res Publica and the first part of Kamal here. Among Zireaux’s many diverse projects, he has also started releasing various short stories, essays/reviews called “Z-Singles” here. Lastly, Radio NZ will distribute the audio of Res Publica via an online archive soon. Watch Zireaux’s space for more details.
*Zireaux was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and holds American and New Zealand citizenship. He has written four novels, including three novels in rhyming verse – one of which, Res Publica, was broadcast over 10 episodeson Radio New Zealand. He wrote his first novel while living in the subcontinent in the 1990s, and has since revised and edited the novel for publication (to be released soon). Zireaux is a regular visitor to South Asia and the US, and writes poetry, book reviews and commentary on literature at the website Immortalmuse.com.
Find more poems this week from the energetic mix of Tuesday Poets below. Just click on over to the main hub and see what’s happening. This week’s hub editor Kathleen Jones brings us Marco Polo by Ali Alizadeh. You can also find poems by the various TP collective members — look down the left-hand sidebar and click on each one to see their weekly contributions.
For more Tuesday Poems, go here.