A Peace Process

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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I’m depressed by how 2011 is going. It’s been one bad thing after another, starting with the car bomb at the Coptic Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve. Now there’s the war in Libya. Is world peace a happy delusion that we inscribe on greeting cards and nothing more? Can you help restore my faith in humanity?
— MJ

 

I hear you. You would think that with all our advancements, we would finally learn how to make peace with one another.  Sometimes I think we really haven’t moved forward at all, like we’re stuck in the Middle Ages where corrupt leaders slice off people’s heads. But I always try to remember that earnest individuals have tried to make world peace a reality. By establishing peacekeeping organizations and conferences, we have tried to rise above violence. And we can’t ignore the countless acts of peace made by ordinary people every day. Surely those would outshine the ugliness of this world, if they only made the news.  Peaceful efforts go overlooked, overshadowed by cluster bombs on the horizon.

I don’t think peace is a happy delusion, but it’s not a given, either. Peace is like poetry:  We have to work for it. We have to study, to labor, to gather our colleagues in a circle and discuss what works and what doesn’t, what we need more of, less of, what to do next. We have to learn from others who have succeeded. And when it finally comes, all that hard work is worth it.

“Clothes for Iraqi Orphans”

Our good deed for the season: my son’s old clothes
piled in plastic bags to be sent to the orphans in Iraq.

No longer needed and practically new
(like the young dead) in search of a body.

How American, at Christmas, to send clothes
as though they could offer healing

or embody love, the same way grandparents
who live far away send too many presents.

I want to write, I’m sorry, across the small tags,
I’m sorry we killed your mother, your father.

I want to send my grief in the bags instead of clothes,
I want it to hold those small bodies like the mother lost.

I want it to be as large as the bags, the weight
we must carry with us, struggling to balance

when one child owns enough socks for ten, when one
sleeps quietly to the hum of an air conditioner,

another’s hot sleep broken by the crack of bombs,
waking to wonder will this be it, the last time.

And what, I think, if the children have lost limbs?
What if there’s only one leg, what will they do

with the spare shoe? Find another child who has lost
the opposite foot? I think of marring the clothing,

cutting off a shirt sleeve, tying knots
in one leg of each pair of pants

as a sign of the damaged lives, as a sign
that I know better. But I don’t.

I send the clothes neatly folded, clean,
the way every child deserves to be dressed.

(Holly Karapetkova, Words We Might One Day Say, Washington Writers’ Publishing House: Washington, D.C., 2010)

10 May 2011

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.

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