The Common Good
January 2009

Written to Read at a Peace Rally

by Jacob Bathanti | January 2009

Who am I to cast light upon the human soul?
Sitting down to write peace-verses for mercenary gain,
Hunting for poems and hoping against hope that I need not

Who am I to cast light upon the human soul?
Sitting down to write peace-verses for mercenary gain,
Hunting for poems and hoping against hope that I need not
Kill them in the hunt, as it seems is so often the case.
Hunched over a school-issue laptop, mining news-clippings for material:
The starving in Zimbabwe and North Korea;
The lame men thronging Varanasi, praying for renewal
Of their shattered or clubbed or twisted limbs;
The shy students who die in Afghanistan or old Sumeria,
Die by misdirected field guns or the bullets of fanatic assassins,
Die in schoolhouses without ever having seen a portable computer.

When Anna’s friend Stephen came home from Iraq
(One tour piloting tanks around the gorgeous wheat fields of Anbar)
He slept on her floor for a week because he couldn’t stand to be alone.
A fine routine: him showing up at her door after dinner,
Before the sky darkened and made him feel the absence of night-vision goggles.
He called her two nights ago, to pick him up at a diner;
Caught out as dusk fell, unexpectedly he found himself again in Samarra,
Or somewhere like it. The Hilltop saved him,
Its neon hamburger and milkshake shining out of the darkness
Like a beacon. He pulled over, called her from inside the restaurant.
A chocolate malted in his other hand.
PTSD a mere acronym, brittle and unspoken as she drove him home.

The house is icy and I’m still hunting poems,
Cold coconut curry and rice an accusation in my mouth
(I try not to think about eating these days,
What with the news of misspent food aid and miscellaneous famines).
I continue with my search, the fire-squads of my thoughts
Combing the unknown tangle of my mind like a wheat field,
Groping after something profound, a candle
To light with my words, once I find them.
All I really want to think about is Anna’s face,
Luminous in the glow of a beacon, any beacon.

Jacob Bathanti is a student at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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