Carried on radio waves,
news of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death reached me
with unexpected force and in an unlikely place:
a Buddhist monastery.
It is a place where violence, in any form, is forbidden entrance,
and where vast internal spaces are mirrored
by the boundless natural landscape.
Nuns and monks, in simple robes, walk and work.
Radiant peacocks and peahens strut.
Students, aged six to eighteen, study in a school that emphasizes character
and asks How can you be of service to the world?
Above it all, like guardians, massive oaks and sycamores spread their arms.
The news arrived as I fastened my safety belt
and suddenly I felt anything but safer.
“Two five hundred pound bombs,” a radio voice said,
enough explosive bite in their jaws to swallow a house
and leave a house-sized crater in a date palm orchard.
Like a meteor, I thought. Sudden, suicidal, alien.
Al-Zarqawi, the disembodied voice of terrorist threats,
his actual body, broken and bloody, now a war trophy.
Who doesn’t want to see an end to terror in Iraq,
an end to exploding cars and baby carriages,
to looking for missing relatives in morgues?
I stepped out of my car.
I more than half expected those great trees to swoon,
the ground to turn momentarily fluid.
Days before, Rachael had told a story.
It seemed simple then.
“A bug flew into my eye while I played soccer.
For a full minute,
I stumbled across the field, half-blind, frantically blinking,
trying to free the bug,
holding my big, clumsy fingers at my side.
It was hilarious.
Teammates told me ‘Just kill it,’
but I laughed
and blinked and the bug broke free.“
Standing there alongside the sycamores,
I could not reconcile the two images:
on the one hand, the Fighter Falcon and its ferocious bombs finding their target
and on the other the foolish fourteen-year old, fumbling,
finding another way.
Standing there outside the Buddhist elementary and secondary schools,
I couldn’t help wonder which image would flower,
which image would seed our future:
the grown men in the F-16 following orders to kill
or the girl-woman, following a voice only she can hear.
Editor’s note: David Smith-Ferri, a Ukiah resident, is author of
Battlefield Without Borders, Iraq Poems, due out this fall from Haley’s Publishing.