Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 12 • Winter 2004 • Poetry

What I Know About War

Elijah Oberman

They said they waited to start bombing
until the wind brushed the clouds away.
They waited for the sky to clear.
Shock and
Everyone must be
burned clean with grieving.
Everyone should see
what was coming
to liberate them.

The only prayer I know for
something this big is screaming.
Take the shaftway between
the mouth and the gut, and
brace it open with scaffold till
sounds come out two at a time,
dissonant chords that
crack against each other like walnuts.

A white boy with a friend in the army
leans his chalk face in close to me.
He's so young he smells like gum and pomade.
We've never had a war with
cell phones before, he tells me.
He's on the other end of the line
just yelling. Useless sounds.
I think the yelling means he's alive.
I think the yelling means
he doesn't want to kill anyone, but
he thinks he might have to.
Then the only sounds I hear are
bombs and guns, growling and shrieking
like tires, asphalt, heat.
Then the line goes dead and we wait.

Bombs exploding sound like
wolves, sound like hunger,
sound like bombs exploding.
We have to be at least
as loud as that. When we
fill the streets with our praying,
they can never be full enough.
We live in a time of counting our breaths.
Inhale. Count to three. Pause.
Exhale. Count to three. Pause. We are living
in those moments of held breaths. We are
here with our fingers open and our palms up,
counting our breaths, fierce-eyed, ready.
Our voices take up
the killing song like rubble,
and turn it back on itself.
Our voices are the kind of missiles
that follow heat.

The president's face fills up the TV.
I try saying his words to see
what they feel like in my mouth,
to try his language on for size.
I try saying things like
all Iraqis are free now.
I can feel his tongue in my mouth.
His language feels like
a million slugs. I think,
I don't know how to pray.
I can't scream loud enough for this.

Elijah Oberman is transgender and Jewish from Charlottesville, Virginia. He currently lives in Brooklyn, plays violin with the syndicate, and works with Jews Against the Occupation.

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