A Flesh Poem About War

After they put us on a high flame

and left us to cook on their new law

of deserting forests, our practised enemy

riffled through the contents of our heart.

They wanted our stash of weapons,

our snake stones, and evidence of black

magic. It was war, although their prissy law

squirms at calling things by name. Enemies

are called rebels; rebels are bleeding hearts

who read too much; infrastructure is a weapon

they can deploy against the charms of black

bodied machine guns; sex is a flame

fanned by legs; breasts are the real enemy.

We were hobbled by laughter. Our heart

convulsed to think of soft flesh as weapons

in the mouths of newborns, as if their black

toothless mouths could hold a flame

to flesh. Flesh gives life – this is the law

of breasts and legs and eyes and heart.

But what did we know? Their first weapon

is the eye. It falls on rivers, pierces black

rock for atomic secrets that can set aflame

the whole world. We did not know laws

of alchemy could make mineral into enemy

wealth and that wealth is a basilisk weapon.

After they motored down to cast black

eyes of iron upon our red earth, flames

shot up from mud walls. Ever since, no law

of the forest will hold. Tigers lick their enemies.

Hyenas sharpen their nails on our hearts.

We stand with the crop all night, blackly

imploring the sky to pour. We stand like flames,

all tongue, swearing upon the gods that the laws

of tree and river are on our side. Our enemy

comes. We can hear them. Their rocky hearts

are knocking, clicking like triggered weapons.

Sky, take our black magic tongue. Hold our flaming

heart, forest. The laws of hunger will decide this war.

Quick! The enemy comes, weapons cradled to his breast.

Annie Zaidi (born 1978) is a writer from India. Her collection of essays, Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales, was short-listed for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award in 2010.

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