14 October 2008

Helping Iraqi War Refugees, One Eye at a Time

Last week, on behalf of 100 Friends, I attended an awareness meeting for Direct Aid Iraq (DAI) at Northwestern Hospital here in Chicago. DAI is a humanitarian relief and peacebuilding project intended to build bridges of friendship and support with Iraqis displaced as the result of the ongoing Iraqi crises through providing funds for crucial medical expenses. 100 Friends donated $1,000 last year for their incredible work and we have pledged to lend more support for the upcoming year. The following poem was written by Haifa'a, one such beneficiary of much-needed medical treatment. Her powerful words - which describe the trauma and miracle she has experienced - blew me away.

Other Hands

Time to think.
Suddenly, in the midst of war, time to remember,
to sift and re-sift, to see clearly.
For forty years, I lived by the sun’s light,
drinking it through the mouth of my pupils.
Who could distinguish between that light and my eyes?
Didn’t my eyes also glow,
weren’t they themselves also stars?
For forty years, my eyes and hands
were lovers lost in a loop,
one chasing the other.
Eyes leading, hands following, they mapped the world,
memorizing its shape, texture, mass, color, knowing the actual thing:
bread, water, soil, stone and loving its illuminated body.
But there is light which is toxic,
which illuminates nothing.
All that intercourse ended when
the incendiary bullets
like molten beetles
bored into my face.
They ate my right eye.
They ate the bone beneath it and burned my other eye,
banning sunlight, breaking a forty year-old circuit of love.

Who first imagined phosphorous weapons,
their molten hunger?
Who dreamed of one light eating another,
of light eclipsing the love of light?

When the phosphorous munitions struck my face,
when they began to melt my skin and bone and eyeball,
my hands could do nothing.
My hands could not shield,
could not lead my eyes away from that light,
from the molten rock that melted my face.
They could not smother that fire;
they could not end the agony of being burned.
Place your fingers beneath your eye and find the bone that protects it.
Feel its unyielding edge.
Think of rock.
Think of a promontory weathering storms.
My hands, O! my hands could not halt the excavationthat left a crater in my face.
But other hands could.
Last month in Amman,
Iraqi doctors rebuilt the bone structure in my eye socket
in preparation for a prosthetic eye.
And yesterday, in a surgery arranged by Iraqis and paid for by Americans,
Jordanian doctors restored my sight,
reunited my hands and my one remaining eye.
What my hands alone could not do,
other hands accomplished:
human fingers and palms extinguished the flames of war
and reignited a dark star.