Damascus Road: Pre-War

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In Damascus, people whisper when out in public. When a waiter arrives at a table, people stop talking…

Then he said what I kept hearing over and over on this trip: “Syrians cannot do this to other Syrians.”

(Janine di Giovanni, “Seven Days in Syria”)

In the days before spring burst in war,
some still danced and lazed in pools.
Some saw the lion on the prowl,
and others stood beside him.

The food was fine still, and the wine.
The poetry was rich; the fruit
was ripening on the trees. Yet some
saw wolves lurk on the fold.

The wolf was in us before we knew;
the lamb was our first and last chance.
The older, younger Noah’s son
bought sunshine with His bow.

And on the hills we see an ark
where lion, lamb and wolf lie down.*
Yet only when true peace is prized
and no-one hides from truth.

*after Ephraim the Syrian, “Hymns on the Nativity: Hymn 7”

Damascus Road: Paris Interlude

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http://www.aljazeera.com

Now it happens
in places with names we know:
near streets we have walked,
in stadiums and concert halls,
in coffee shops,
where violence never breathed before,
where we were safe.

Now we look for signs of links
to Syria, to al-Assad,
ISIL, and cells which fire.
Nothing has prepared us, yet
to others this has brewed for long.
The boundaries ever shifting say
that nothing was ever safe.

When French Charlie can’t say his name
without all heads turning at once,
the times are only waving a sign.
Once, when peasants were offered cake,
no-one ate to celebrate
Today, remember: Damascus’ streets bustled before,
and in the days of Noah men ate and drank
and no-one saw the rain.