This poem was read by Perie Longo at the Foundation’s Sadako Peace Day commemoration on August 6, 2009
After 9/11 before the Iraq war began, before terror became a common word to rhyme with error, I stood before a third grade poetry class, their poems to return in hand, noted each had the word WOO after their first name. “So you’re all related?” I asked. “Manuel Woo, Brandon Woo, Kui-Sun Woo?”
Over geysers of laughter, Manuel spoke. “Oh Missus! Woo is short for teacher’s name. Woodburn.” The joke on me, I joined in. He grinned, “That shows we’re all brothers and sisters after all.” Glee subsided into hush, faces plump with hope.
Manuel’s words tumble down to join the news today, eight years past, as Neda’s face tears across the airwaves; beautiful Neda of Tehran caught in a post-election, demonstration traffic jam, stepping out of the stifling heat of a car for a breath of fresh air, struck instead by the heat of a bullet. “It burned me,” her last words.
Neda, a lightning rod, sister of uncounted brothers and sisters standing up for freedom, her family not allowed to bury her in public—she not a martyr— only a young girl who liked to sing pop. Pop, pop. On the front pages of news lies Neda, meaning voice, silenced; voice of the world that will never rest until we learn all our last names begin with something like woo, not woe, not the sound of death pressing between cracks of locked doors, but the wind between us all, rushing through.