These are the winning poems of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2019 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards. For more information on the peace poetry contest, and to read the winning poems from previous years, click here.
Adult Category, First Place
I am counting moons until the memory of the bombing
of your sister’s village folds up its tents and finds
a home in someone else’s heart. Ten moons after
and I am still dreaming of winter in the mouth of spring,
still feeling the hooves of loss stampeding
the bones inside my body, wondering where
the dead journey when they walk out
of the houses of the living.
This is the way we learn how to make sense
in a senseless world, count moons that cross the sky
and roll bone dice in the backwater alleys of our souls
until all our questions of right and wrong learn lessons
from the shape-shifter and fly out of our doors as birds;
crows or ravens. I wander the hallways like a lost ghost
and ask why did she want a wedding in a world made of war?
Why did she want a dress stitched with the dreams
of our people? Why did she believe in the possibility
of love in a time of hate? I wake to the smell
of cumin and turmeric, marjoram and coriander.
I find you in the kitchen releasing the aroma of spices
for a good life into the mouth of a world famished for peace,
causing me to feel as hungry as all migrant tongues
anxious to be fed words of hope we can eat as bread
or drink as coffee. I wake with the call to prayer
that signals forgiveness and a new beginning
for all of us. I whisper names of the dead and cradle them
in my hands. This is the way things fall apart and
this is the way they are mended once again.
Adult Category, Honorable Mention
Colin D. Halloran
He gives us hope, or recollection of what it was.
What it was to live, what it is to be present.
He sits in slippered feet, smoking pipe perched thoughtfully
as he exudes an academic air, his chin is slightly tilted,
eyes turned not toward chunks of rubble on the floor
or the bed stand, now more tilted than his chin.
He does not seem to notice the places where the roof caved in,
the shutters barely dangling, the windows long-since shattered.
His Aleppo is not the background smoldering buildings,
bloodied streets and smoke filled skies.
No, he packs his city contentedly into his pipe
and slowly cranks his gramophone.
He is the wizard of Aleppo, white beard and all,
creating the magic of memory, the faintest smoke rings of hope,
belief that things could be as they once were.
“It’s my home,” he says, as though it’s obvious why he hasn’t left
this war torn structure
this city of rubble
this place that records his loss.
Because for Abu Omar this place is home
this place is hope
that one day his grandchildren
will once more fill the shattered space with joy.
But for now, he first fills his pipe
then fills the wall-less room with strained notes that move from vinyl
into the streets, like so many revolutionaries did before.
Because this is his city.
This is his home.
And this is his hope.
1 In March of 2017 a photograph by Andrew Katz went viral. The photo featured Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, known as Abu Omar, sitting on the bed in his destroyed Aleppo apartment, smoking a pipe and listening to his favorite record.
Youth Category (13-18), First Place
Dried blue tongue. Winter bite. Your mother is twelve when she
learns violence is more than a pistol pressed to her father’s forehead:
It’s her mother silent, crouching over one small sac. It’s a creaky
deck that screams against footsteps as they board the ship, eyes
forward while her father’s corpse is left sinking in motherland soil.
Steam engine burr. Impossible shore. Each day sunken with a
new grief—children who hear bullets whenever night falls.
Mothers reaching for shadows, each crowned with a deadman’s
name. Al silence if not for the bombs, re-swallowed as secrets
in the ocean’s many mouths.
Months later, San Francisco slides in with teeth. Every night,
Your mother can still hear her father’s voice, sharp till drowned
out with blood. Still, life goes on. Quick cuts on the roasted
pork belly. Dishes clanking in the sink. Her mother dying
and the sounds of it: water leaks and strapping silence.
Sometimes, she remembers again. Her father picking tulips
in the valley. The sun’s glare not a battle cry, but a beginning.
She presses her forehead where the soldier pressed her father’s.
Oceans and decades away, she can still hear his cries.
Still, life goes on.
A duck’s brief song outside the window. Sunlight slanting
from a hole in the ceiling. Everything hospital white.
Your face meeting hers for the first time. Your mother
grazes your forehead, names you forgiveness.
Outside the tulips are blooming
even an ocean away.
Youth Category (13-18), Honorable Mention
these are the mountains, i’m told,
where boys with guns weaved through trees
and prayed for rain. where camphor caught red
silt between roots and the spirits of tigers stirred
in faceless boughs, silver bombers gliding
through canopy. at night, the mountains grow
like stains, lean into the automobiles strewn
over asphalt. in the sky, a commercial plane,
red wound on a pockmarked face. gravel rasps under
my rubber soles. i paw at it; an animal, maw wet
with what’s to come. there’s no truck hulking bovine
in the dark, no moonlit wheel to throw
my gaze at. instead, my hands, oiled from heat,
rushing down for dust: an arc of rubble thrown
into sky. it suspends, luminous, then clatters
to stillness. eight years ago i would’ve believed
that the mist pouring from the mountain’s jaw
was my grandmother. now, just pearl air killing
the blue rhythm of stars. crickets weep
and add a skin to silence. above mountains
light cycles through its blistering histories—
i too, a fist of dust in transit.
Youth Category (12 and Under), First Place
He stood up for peace
When he refused to plan
He sat down for peace
Even when money was thrown at him
He stood up for peace
No matter who it was
He sat down for peace
And played his
“Song of the birds”
Dear Pablo Casals
Thank you for your peaceful
Youth Category (12 and Under), Honorable Mention
War of gods.
War of princesses.
War of nature.
War of wars.
There will never
Be a cure
To this war.
In this war, boys are raised to be men.
Brave they start,
Fearful they end.
This war will go on.
It will never end.
People will no longer be friends.
Make it end.
Make it end.
Make this horrible war end.