We left the land behind
covered by the ash of houses and flesh,
like everything else, too heavy
to be carried on backs or bare hands.
we pushed the elderly in wheelbarrows,
strapped the infants to our chests like ammunition,
and took flight in the snow.
At the road’s last bend I turned in tears
To see the roof of my house snap in half
Like a tree bit by the jaws of a hungry lightning
I could feel the heat of the burning threshold
pulsing under my tongue.
I bit through it to stay alive
And slowly chewed through the memory
Cautiously rationing the blood for three days.
When we arrived at the border
An endless caravan of ragged souls
ripping from spines with every step
Slowly hemorrhaged through the exit wound checkpoint
There was a soldier with a screwdriver
Removing wedding bands from women’s fingers.
His hands were a colony of hungry fire ants
Burning through the layers of my clothing.
A captain with a hawk sitting on his shoulder
Counted our heads. He collected pleasant features
with his pocket knife, and fed his bird
eyeballs and women’s nipples.
When it swallowed, breast milk dripped off its beak
The color of the muddy snow.
Others sat by the fire,
next to the pile of car tags, kidneys,
passports, jars of pickled hands, and land deeds.
They drank vodka from a dead baby’s bottle
sharing their fresh kill with the wolves
and a bloody hound, playing a drunk accordion.
At the checkpoint they stripped us
off our boys and men,
told us to cross alone,
And never look back.
When they unhinged their guns’ gates
A stampede of angry bullets roared like a mob
Cheering their favorite dictator.
They aimed their hooves at our men
Grinding their bones into soft, pink salt.
their souls tore out of their bodies
like legless birds escaping a collapsing city.
They hovered over our heads for days
Unable to land anywhere.
They were caught in the net of a photographer
Who sold them by the pound to foreign newspapers.
The editorials showed pictures of bodies covered in dirt
The headlines read “ETHNIC CLEANSING”
The civilized world was appalled.
They said, that kind of behavior is a no-no.
They stuffed UN resolutions into our mouths
and call it a peaceful solution.
Forgive, they said, it is time to move on.
Be civilized. Shake hands.
Sit here. Sign there.
Smile for the camera.
The lust of land makes murderers of men.
It makes them dull to history and eager to forget
Their justice is a whore with bedroom eyes
Turning tricks for the foreign press
They say she’s here to stay
she now answers in my name
Her palms are an army of proper white men
I am to kiss in gratitude
I am to be schooled in the ways of her civility
Mind her peacekeeping whip
Though the wolves scratch their hooves
on the northern border again
like the salt they took from me is not enough
I feel the lightning’s pitchfork in my throat
ripping through my threshold again
The roof of my mouth caving in under the weight
of the body of evidence they will not let me claim
My last son died in a day of peace.
When we came back to our charred house
He lifted the torso of a body from the threshold
And suddenly awoke the snake of a mine
Sleeping under the petrified remnant.
His feathers scattered all over the yard.
His head toppled against the last standing post
Like his old childhood ball, and rolled down
All the way to my feet.
He is the only one I got to bury.
A rare tombstone with a given name.
Everything ash has touched belongs to me.
Every life hung in branch, gutted by knife
Or buried by gun
Plant me a tree for each son I lost.
The forest is mine.
Every stone, every crater,
Every stomp and ghostly river
Everything the feather touches